Reflections on Two Years of Russia’s Invasion

Tatyana Deryugina
4 min readFeb 23, 2024

Tomorrow marks a grim milestone — the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion. And there’s no end in sight. Then again, it is remarkable that Ukraine has kept Russia back for so long. Prior to the invasion, Western countries warned of severe consequences to Russia but also made it very clear that help to Ukraine would be limited and that their primary concern was not starting World War III.

Of course, no one wants to start World War III, but when you’re faced with a ruthless calculating dictator, that’s the worst sentiment to communicate. Putin thought that Ukraine would fall quickly and that any negative consequences from the West would be worth the prize. After all, Russia had essentially gotten away with annexing Crimea in almost every way except on paper.

That Ukraine didn’t fall quickly after the full-scale invasion is a testament both to the bravery of Ukrainians and their leaders and to Russia’s incompetent arrogance. Due to Ukraine’s effective resistance and Russia’s typical brutality in warfare, the response of Western nations was stronger than expected. But arguably not by much.

Weapons didn’t flood into the hands of the Ukrainian army; they trickled in, as did the sanctions. Ukraine was initially told not to strike targets inside Russia with Western-provided weapons, even as Russia pummeled Ukrainian schools, hospitals, and homes. Russia remained on the UN Security Council. Some Western leaders showed a remarkable ignorance of the situation by, for example, referring to Russians and Ukrainians as “ brothers” even as Russians were beginning to carry out a genocide against Ukrainians. Despite a decades-long record of proven lies, respectable people persistently succumbed to Russia’s periodic (and sham) assertions that it is “willing to negotiate” and implicitly faulted Ukraine for insisting on protecting its internationally recognized boundaries.

The world also continued to buy Russian oil, gas, and other goods. Some Western companies left Russia, but others continued operating under the guise of “ not abandoning their people” and other dubious excuses. Their immoral choices resulted in them paying Russian taxes and thereby directly supporting Russia’s war machine. The list of Western failures to stand up decisively to Russia goes on and on.

Given the half-hearted Western response, it’s not surprising that Russia continued and continues waging the war. It is a much larger country than Ukraine, and one clear benefit of a dictatorship is the ability to shift the entire economy and population to war mode without having to face repercussions from voters. Democracies showed themselves to be fickle and easily intimidated by nuclear rhetoric. Ukraine, by contrast, showed itself to be more spirited and united than Putin could have expected, which likely made it even more important to defeat in Putin’s eyes. After all, an independent, successful, Western-leaning Ukraine, would be too big of a threat to Putin’s autocratic rule by showing Russians an attractive alternative way to live.

Considering today’s situation, it is not clear that Putin was wrong in continuing to wage the war. This is, of course, taking into account the fact that Putin does not care about the well-being of ordinary Russians, not to mention Ukrainians. The US looks dysfunctional, unable to pass an aid package that the majority of the population and likely the majority of representatives support. Congressional representatives are parroting Russian propaganda. Neither Europe nor the US is increasing its defensive capabilities quickly enough. Western populations are becoming increasingly distracted.

It could be much worse, of course. In an alternate universe where, for example, Zelenskyy had fled Kyiv or where Trump had won a second term, Putin may now be conscripting Ukrainians to attack Moldova or Georgia on his behalf. We are certainly lucky not to live in that universe.

But let’s not fool ourselves with unfounded optimism. Europe is now in the greatest danger it’s been since World War II, largely due to its leaders’ lack of resolve and misunderstanding of Putin and Russia. There’s a real chance that, without governments taking much more decisive and swift action than they have so far, we will be horrified at the world we are living in two more years from now.

Where does that leave us, more or less ordinary people? A big difference between Putin’s Russia and democracies is that the latter do respond to their citizens’ demands. So demand that your government do whatever it takes to help Ukraine defeat Russia. Do it loudly and do it often. Tell your friends to do it. Donate to organizations that do it. Regardless of what the next two years bring, you will not regret standing idly by and doing nothing.

Originally published at https://ukraineinsights.substack.com.

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