In Other News – One Year After the Russian Invasion of the Ukraine – 2/17/2023

February 17, 2023

One year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the regional fight for justice has global implications. At this time last year, Western politicians, journalists, analysts, and intelligence officials were heatedly debating whether Putin would have the audacity and political support to invade Ukraine (again). Today, at the Munich Security Conference, Ukraine’s Western allies are instead trying to figure out how to support Kyiv for the long haul, as fears of a prolonged conflict loom large. It’s also become increasingly clear that the outcome of this regional battle will establish a precedent for global geopolitical conditions to come.

Regionally, Putin’s disregard for human life has been on full display. Within its own borders, Russia has recruited prisoners, exploited its poorest and most desperate citizens, arrested, tortured, and killed political dissidents, and turned against members of its minority populations. In Ukraine, Putin’s army has attacked civilians and civilian infrastructure, tortured and raped women and minors, and forcibly separated thousands of Ukrainian children from their families to “re-educate” them at Russian camps.

Further, as the war’s anniversary approaches, Putin’s cronies are organizing a mass action to celebrate the Russian military in an event termed “The Heroes of Our Time.” Attendees will be able to record videos of themselves in front of war memorials and craft goods to send to the frontlines. The regime is also encouraging citizens to paint murals honoring the troops across Russian cities, thereby enlisting regular people as propaganda artists, and coordinating meetings between soldiers and Russian schoolchildren. It will all culminate in a Moscow rally where Putin is expected to speak.

Meanwhile, thousands are dying on the battlefield, and the fight is increasingly intense in Eastern Ukrainian cities like Bakhmut and Vuhledar. The discussion at the Munich conference was understandably about keeping Ukraine armed with the weapons it needs during the latest Russian offensive and in the weeks or months to come. But we also cannot lose sight of the larger geopolitical implications of any potential Russian gains. Indeed, our adversaries seem to be capitalizing on the uncertain global conditions to strengthen their alliances.

This week, for the first time in 20 years, an Iranian President traveled to China. President Xi Jinping gave a warm welcome to his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and his large delegation, and lauded China’s “solidarity and cooperation” among the current complex geopolitical environment. Xi also called for the lifting of sanctions against Iran and remarked that he would support Iran’s efforts to safeguard its national sovereignty. At the same time, Xi assured Iran that he’d help reinvigorate negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, and the two leaders signed cooperation agreements on items like agriculture and trade, and China’s traditional soft power initiatives like sports and culture.

Further, China and Iran are closely watching the Ukrainian battlefield to assess both the tactics of modern warfare and the political implications. Thanks to the Russians, Iranian drones are on exhibit in Ukraine, and US officials have noted that Iran is learning how the drones operate in different weather and circumstances, allowing the developers to refine the weapons for future use. The Iranians are also reportedly planning to build a drone factory several hundred miles outside of Moscow.

The Chinese are no doubt also noting which weapons are effective for an offensive on a neighboring state, and taking stock of the type of economic and political penalties facing Putin’s regime. Important lessons can be gleaned from Putin’s attempts to restock ammunition, troops, and political propaganda as the second year of his attack continues. Ukraine’s allies, too, must take stock of the previous year – recognizing that this battle is larger than the immediate region and increasing our support accordingly.