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Grounds for hope after a year of war in Ukraine

“The glory and freedom of Ukraine have not yet died.” Scarcely has the first line of a national anthem proved so apt. Russia’s assault on its neighbour on February 24 2022 brought large-scale war, with all its bloodshed, misery and mass dislocations, back to Europe. A year later there are grounds for solace. Ukraine has preserved its independent statehood through courage and fortitude, with the help of European and North American allies whose unity has held. The conflict has not so far ignited a wider conflagration. And it is clear Russia does not have the capacity to swallow or subjugate Ukraine.

Yet what is also apparent is that this will be a prolonged conflict. Vladimir Putin seems intent at least on controlling enough territory to declare a victory to his people, and to undermine Ukraine’s viability. He also believes he can outlast the west.

The Russian president has, by UK estimates, deployed 97 per cent of Moscow’s army to Ukraine. Any antiwar protest has been crushed, and the last free news outlets closed. Putin has constructed an Orwellian alternative reality, in which not Moscow but the west started this war, as part of longstanding efforts to destroy Russia. The limited “special military operation” of a year ago is now portrayed as an existential struggle around which Putin is attempting to mobilise society.

President Joe Biden insisted in Kyiv and Warsaw this week that the US will stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes”. But within a year the US will be in a presidential contest that may test bipartisan solidarity towards Kyiv. Popular support is growing in some western European countries for a settlement. China, too, is now pushing for negotiations, though Kyiv could never accept a settlement that left Russia in control of the 17 per cent of its land that it currently occupies.

Western leaders need a strategy to provide more support, more quickly, to Ukraine to ensure Putin does not prevail in this war of attrition. The US and its allies have cautiously stepped up the range and lethality of weapons they supply to Ukraine, mindful of Putin’s threats of dire — even nuclear — consequences. Caution cannot be set aside. But there is scope for a less gradualist approach.

Ukraine needs more of the weapons the west has already agreed to provide — including tanks and armoured vehicles to help regain territory and repel Russian offensives. It needs more defensive and offensive capabilities in the air. A concerted western effort is required to produce and supply more ammunition. The more Kyiv can realise gains, the more likely western political and public support is to hold.

Continuing efforts are required to broaden and tighten sanctions and squeeze Moscow’s ability to fund its war machine. Loopholes and sanctions “leakage” via third countries should be closed off. A western embargo combined with a price cap on Russian crude has proved effective in keeping oil flowing and the global market stable while crimping Moscow’s revenues. The $60-a-barrel cap should be lowered further.

We cannot yet know how the war will end, but Kyiv must be provided with the resources so it can end it on its own terms. It is already time, too, to consider Ukraine’s postwar place in the political, economic and security architecture of Europe. Making it an official candidate for EU membership was a major step forward. But a credible path must be set out to completing the necessary modernising and anti-corruption reforms and reaching that destination, in tandem with the country’s reconstruction. Discussion is rightly starting about the postwar security guarantees Ukraine will need. Thousands of its citizens have paid in blood to ensure independence and a “European future” for their country. Ukraine deserves assurances that this is indeed the future that awaits it.

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