On Point: The Not So Secret Preludes to Russia's 2022 Invasion of Ukraine

by Austin Bay
February 14, 2024

A strong case can be made that Russia's war to seize Ukraine began in 2004 with a covert attempt by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin to subvert Ukraine's election and install a pro-Moscow vassal.

In Ukraine's 2004 national elections, Russia-backed Viktor Yanukovych ostensibly defeated democratizer Viktor Yushchenko. To the Kremlin's dismay, mass demonstrations erupted -- the Orange Revolution (November 2004 to January 2005). Ukrainians took to the streets and rejected the flawed election.

Ukraine's supreme court examined the evidence, determined fraud and intimidation were rampant, annulled the spurious results and ordered another vote.

In late December 2004, despite Russian money and propaganda pushing Yanukovych, Yushchenko won the re-vote.

As a former KGB officer, Putin is well schooled in the dark arts of intimidation, propaganda and subversion. In 2004, Putin was president of Russia and insisting ethnic Russians belonged within the borders of Mother Russia. Ukrainians and Russians? In Putin's mind, they were the same people. He also knew a state combining Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan (RUBK) could be a superpower.

Putin was president in February 2014 when Russian forces invaded Ukraine and subsequently annexed Crimea. Putin ran the Kremlin during Russia's "slow war" in eastern Ukraine (April 2014 to February 2022) -- a grinding war designed to demoralize Ukraine and drain its economy.

In February 2022, Putin convinced himself that a swift Russian "special operation" would defeat Ukraine in three weeks or so -- a big step in creating his new Russian empire. The Biden administration's Afghanistan withdrawal debacle may have convinced him he had a stellar opportunity.

Putin, however, wasn't merely wrong. He was -- and still is -- delusional.

Ukraine defeated Russia's initial assault and recovered significant territory. Despite the inventive use of drones and precision munitions, Ukraine's summer 2023 counteroffensive stalled.

As the second anniversary of Putin's failed special operation nears, the Russia-Ukraine War is a stalemate -- a war of attrition. The front-line trenches and shell craters are a World War I hellscape.

Even with its manpower and resource advantages, Russia's inept military cannot employ decisive combat power. Russia has suffered horrendous casualties. StrategyPage.com recently estimated since February 2022, Russia has suffered over 400,000 soldiers killed or severely wounded. Moreover, Russia is currently "losing about 300 soldiers, dead or wounded, a day."

Ukraine has also sustained heavy casualties but still exhibits a strong will to fight. Like Finland and Israel, Ukraine is a nation-in-arms. An invader fights the entire population, not just a government and regular military forces. So Ukraine manages to survive on the battlefield -- as Russian missiles devastate its cities.

Another form of attrition threatens Ukraine -- attrition of political and material support from its European and American allies.

It appears the U.S. Congress will approve another military aid request for Ukraine, but dithering only encourages Putin's delusions.

Military analysts argue that to fight a mobile armored battle that creates decisive breakthoughs, Ukraine needs manned strike aircraft to support its tanks and infantry. In 2023, Ukraine didn't have the aircraft. The Biden administration spent a year dithering. F-16s won't arrive until mid-2024 -- if then.

In a recent two-hour-long video interview with Tucker Carlson, Putin made it clear he invaded Ukraine because he believes Ukraine belongs to Russia. After the interview, Carlson told his audience that he was "shocked" to learn Putin really believes Russia has historic claims to Ukraine. Well, for decades Putin has proclaimed Russian supremacy, and Russia's horrendous losses haven't purged his delusion. Putin has propagandized ethnic Russians and incited ethnonational passions to mobilize Russian support for an imperial war to reclaim allegedly lost territories. Putin himself is the driving strategic force -- the center of gravity -- behind his stalemated war for the Russian Empire.

Carlson apparently believed Putin's propaganda pitch, that he ordered the invasion because he feared an imminent attack by NATO and America.

Until Putin is gone, there is no military or diplomatic route to a ceasefire, much less just peace.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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