On the anniversary of the Russian invasion in Ukraine

Why the West is key to how this war will end

In an interview, Orysia Lutsevych, Head of the Ukraine Forum at Chatham House, explains why Western unity is important for peace on the continent, what role international civil society plays in this, and how the war is changing Russia's position in the world.

Julia Rommel
IMAGO/Addictive Stock/OleksandraxTroian
February 23, 2023

Orysia, despite all hopes for a quick end, the war continues in Ukraine one year after the Russian attack. You are in touch with many people in Ukraine. What are they experiencing?

Ukraine has moved from fear in the first hours and days of a full-scale invasion to fortitude. Unlike in 2014, when the war was limited to the south and east of the country, since February nowhere has been safe in Ukraine. Cities from Lviv to Kharkiv, to Odessa and Vinnytsia have been targeted by Russian missiles. What is especially difficult for civilians is Russia’s inhumane targeting of the electricity grid, which is the lifeline of modern urban life. But people are adapting. Now over 50% of small businesses and shops have generators. Cities are setting up public Points of Invincibility, places with free access to warm up, recharge phones and connect to the internet. Their message is: We will resist, and Russia will fail to freeze us into submission. 

Amazingly, Ukraine’s public infrastructure such as banking, railroads and public transport are all working. Obviously, cities closer to the front line are suffering more, and life is especially hard for vulnerable populations and children who have ended up in the war zone. 

Ukrainians are also deeply traumatized by the war crimes that Russian military is committing in places it occupies. Mass graves, torture chambers and deportation of children to Russia all point to a genocidal type of war that the Kremlin is waging against the Ukrainian people. That is why so few Ukrainians (only 11%) are willing to give up territory in exchange for peace. 

About the person

Orysia Lutsevych

is a Research Fellow and Head of the Ukraine Forum in the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House. As a Robert Bosch fellow, Orysia produced the influential "How to finish a revolution: civil society and democracy in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine". Her work focuses on social change and the role of civil society in democratic transition in the post-Soviet region. 

How can the West, how can civil society organizations help most effectively?

The West is key for how this war will end – not only for Ukraine. A united West that remains resolute is key for giving peace on the European continent a new chance. If Putin is allowed to have his way with territorial grabs, it will only embolden his imperialistic regime to move further and continue what he refers to as the “gathering of historic Russian lands.” That is why Western governments are providing as much military assistance as necessary to defeat the Russian army on Ukrainian territory. Compelling Kyiv to negotiate with an aggressor that is waging a genocidal war would be a grave blunder with a high price. 

International civil society also has a role to play. Ukraine has a well-developed and strong civil society of its own. Connecting to these groups, providing financial assistance – but also  a strong solidarity network – is key. This is just one way to strengthen the Ukrainian home front. Even as the war is raging, a Chatham House survey of civil society groups conducted in December 2022 shows that over 60% of civil society organizations are already engaged in addressing the consequences of war. They help internally displaced Ukrainians, engage with local and national governments in planning post-war rebuilding, and support vulnerable groups. Connecting Ukrainian and European civil society will be key for Ukraine’s future path to full EU membership. They will need support in implementing European norms for climate transition, food safety, rule of law, and other sectors. 

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We spoke to policymakers from Estonia and the Czech Republic about challenges, achievements, and the current situation.

Neighboring countries like Poland and Moldova have made enormous efforts in receiving refugees from the Ukraine. How is the situation there today?

The Eastern European neighbors of Ukraine have shown abiding solidarity with the people of Ukraine. They have opened their doors to millions of women and children. They are helping to secure future generations. And Ukrainians are grateful to Poland, especially. Over 180.000 people started working legally in receiving countries under a simplified procedure. Schools have trained assistant teachers in Ukrainian language skills for easier integration of children.

Moldova has also been one of the main routes for people from Southern Ukraine, mainly from the Odesa region. This has been more difficult, as economically the country is struggling under the Russian pressure. In October 2022, Gazprom cut gas imports to Moldova by 30% in an attempt to squeeze the country’s pro-EU government. Now the Kremlin is trying to destabilize the country from inside. The situation is very volatile, with anti-government protests support by Russia-allied groups. 

The war seems to be stuck. Apart from a defeat of Ukraine, what can make Russia stop the aggression?

It is clear now that Putin is ready to throw many men into the furnace of war. Over 200,000 Russians are already dead or have been wounded in Ukraine. This means the only way to stop the aggression is to defeat Russian troops on the battlefield. At this point, due to severe repression (it is criminal offence in Russia to call it a war) there is no visible public protest. Furthermore, many Russians believe the war is justified to defend Russia from NATO and threats to its statehood. 

Ukraine, together with its allies, must win. And all efforts must be directed to the strategic supply of armaments, training of personnel and economic assistance to Ukraine. In the end, this is the only way forward. Any other outcome will just delay a bigger war. 

"Ukraine, together with its allies, must win...Any other outcome will just delay a bigger war."

Quote fromOrysia Lutsevych
Quote fromOrysia Lutsevych

Analysts are discussing the extent to which this war is changing Russia’s position in the world. How has the war affected the geopolitical balance of power, if at all?

Russia has already suffered several strategic losses. There can be no relationship with Russia while Putin remains in power. The military debacle in Ukraine has led to a loss of Russia’s military power. Enormous losses of men and materiel, a questionable strategy, and a lack of technological advantage will have a long-term impact on arms sales and partnerships in the Global South. The Kremlin has lost one of its most stable energy markets, as Europe is weaning itself from Russian fossil fuel for the foreseeable future. Most importantly, inside Russia, Putin has set in motion a turbulent process that will lead to decline and instability with so far unknown consequences. 

The war on Ukraine has reinvigorated alliances of democracies across the Atlantic and in the Indo-Pacific. The EU embraced its new sense of geopolitical purpose and – for the first time in its history – financed military support for Kyiv. NATO will soon welcome new members – Finland and Sweden. The US, working in lockstep with its partners in Europe, is showing steadfast leadership in providing weapons, coordinating military aid from over 50 nations, and keeping the channel of communication to senior Russian leadership open. This year has demonstrated that Russia’s nuclear sabre-rattling is futile.  

The impact on China is an increased sense of caution. The US has demonstrated it can walk the talk in defending values, so Beijing will think twice before pursuing a military solution for Taiwan. Ukraine’s capacity to wage a successful defensive war against a much larger adversary is also an inspiring example for Taipei. The more Russia loses, the more cautious China will be in backing Putin’s military affair. Resolute sanctioning of Russia for its aggression is a warning sign of the costs if China were to supply military aid.