This site uses third party services that need your consent. Learn more

Skip to content

Putin Will Never Win Ukraine

He may be able to take Ukraine—eventually. But can he keep it? And at what cost?

Above: Kyiv, 24 February 2022

Brianna Philpot is a graduate of NYU’s MA program in Russian & Slavic Studies and International Relations. She is Editorial Assistant for All the Russias.

Americans know a thing or two about unilaterally invading a sovereign nation, to say nothing of WMD and the “concerns” Vladimir Putin has expressed about them. The invading coalition in Iraq numbered 170,000, similar in size—if not in quality—to Russian forces in Ukraine today.

Despite facing a defensive force of 400,000, the US encountered little opposition and took Baghdad in less than a month. Russia, too, outstrips Ukraine according to every defense metric. But Mr. Putin has underestimated his opponent.

Above: Donetsk, in the Donbas Region, November 2014

Ukraine has undertaken significant defense reforms since 2014, and eight years of fighting against Russian-backed separatists in Donbas have provided Ukrainian forces with experience combatting Russian tactics and weapons.

Putin thought he could cross the border and Ukraine would crumble at his feet, but that is not so. The invasion is not progressing as quickly as he anticipated. Despite every expectation to the contrary, Russian forces have failed to take control of Ukrainian airspace. Kyiv still stands.

Putin may be able to take Ukraine—eventually. But can he keep it? And at what cost?

The reckless arrogance of US ambitions in Iraq resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, trillions in direct and indirect economic costs, and political instability in Iraq and across the Middle East. The US created an insurgency. Putin already has one.

With every kindergarten his forces shell and every civilian they kill, the Ukrainian people steel their resolve further. Even as civilians flee their homes to escape the assault, others return from abroad to defend their nation. Ukrainians are ready to lob Molotov cocktails at their assailants, and even the elderly are prepared to take up the mantle of war.

Above: Protest in Moscow, February 24th, 2022

The Russian people do not want war. No matter how many are arrested and silenced, this basic fact will not change. When casualties mount and Russians begin to feel the effects of new sanctions, how many more will take to the streets? Not even Putin's own officials are marching in lockstep with him.

The forces the Russian president has illegally deployed to Ukraine don’t want to be there. Their mothers will continue to be a thorn in his side. Their morale, what little of it exists, will flag as a Ukrainian insurgency drags on.

[gallery columns="2" size="full" type="slideshow" ids="7444,7445"]

Above: Ukrainians gather in large protests that would become the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan.

Ukrainians rejected Putin’s obsolete vision of the world in 2004. They rejected it again at Independence Square in 2014. Putin might kill its people; he might occupy its territory; but he will never win Ukraine.

Related articles

Updates Right in Your Inbox

Keep up-to-date on all upcoming events.