One year ago this month TDs, Senators and 45 foreign diplomats gathered in the Dáil chamber to hear the historic address by President Volodymyr Zelensky,   Houses of the Oireachtas Press Office via

O'SHEA: A War With No End in Sight

The two sides are so far apart in the war in Ukraine that there is no end in sight.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated repeatedly that they will only achieve their goals when the Russian invaders have returned to their own country, and President Putin’s stated bottom line maintains with a straight face that Ukraine is just an extension of Russia without any justifiable claim to separate nationhood.

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Russia’s current assault revolves around the city of Bakhmut, which was close to falling to Moscow a month ago in a battle reminiscent of the trench fighting during the Great War a century ago. But the latest reports reflect the amazing resilience of the defending Ukrainian army and now the concession of the town to their enemies is far from inevitable.

There is no chance that victory by either side in Bakhmut will be determinative of overall victory in the war, but it is being watched closely to reveal who is getting on top. Symbols matter a great deal in every conflict and this small city in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine carries huge significance.

Looking west before the war started Vladimir Putin concluded that NATO is weak and the United States is riven with divisions, including a major dispute about who won the last presidential election. He concluded that his superior numbers and firepower would overwhelm the Ukrainian army and quickly restore a puppet government in Kyiv.

Looking to America, the Russian leader largely disregarded President Biden’s warnings, aware that the United States was chastened by recent military defeats in Iraq and especially in Afghanistan. In Putin’s reading of the situation, America would huff and puff, condemning Russian expansionism, but they would avoid military involvement in Europe as they did when he annexed Crimea in 2014.

The Russian leader got it completely wrong. His foolish assumption that he could just march in and take over an independent European country while the western powers would roll over after such an outrageous territorial snatch proved to be a massive miscalculation.

Reacting angrily to the first major territorial invasion in Europe since 1945, President Biden rallied NATO and the EU countries against Russia’s barbaric behavior. The response from the European allies to his clarion call for resistance was overwhelmingly positive. They conveyed a loud and defiant Nyet to Moscow.

For the countries in Western Europe, well-tutored by Hitler and Stalin in the consequences of extremism, to abandon a neighboring democracy attacked by a bully nation would be unconscionable. Furthermore, history has shown that if he succeeded in imposing his will in Kyiv, the Russian dictator would likely move again, perhaps in the Baltic region.

Alexei Navalany.

Alexei Navalany.

There is a strong ideological dimension to the conflict. Putin leads a totalitarian government where Alexei Navalny, the leader of the opposition, having survived a FSB effort to poison him, is now in a Siberian jail on trumped up charges. The government in Moscow meets all the criteria of a fascist regime where the clicking heel binds every political decision. Citizen dissent invites severe consequences from the Kremlin.

Ironically, Vladimir Putin, in a clear case of what psychologists call transference, accuses the Ukrainian government of behaving like Nazis, in the vain hope of convincing Ukrainians that their elected government follows the hated ideology of Hitler and his cronies from the 1940s. This propaganda has fallen on deaf ears. A recent poll revealed that over 80% of Ukrainians despise the Moscow regime and its invading army.

President Biden, seasoned from years in the forefront of American foreign policy, led the charge against Russia’s invasion. This response was very different from after the annexation of Crimea where most of the people speak Russian and many identify with Russian culture.

At Biden's prompting, around 60 billion dollars have flowed to Kyiv to help defray the military and financial costs of the war. The EU, Great Britain, and a parade of other democratic countries, including Ireland, have also contributed millions.

Mr. Biden is running for re-election next year and his leadership In Ukraine will be an important factor in his campaign. The two leading Republican contenders, former president Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, want to end military and financial support for Kyiv. That position caters to the hardline MAGA crowd, but is strongly rejected by substantial numbers of mainline Republicans.

At the beginning of the invasion a poll in Kyiv showed that only 30% of Ukrainians thought they could take on the Russians and emerge victorious. Last month, over 70% said they were confident of victory. Their determination is bolstered by the horrors of Russian army units bombing schools and hospitals with no regard for the Geneva Convention.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin because of serious violations of international law in Ukraine. This action follows a decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council which found Moscow guilty of war crimes, including transporting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children to new “homes” in Russia.

The ICC counts a membership of 123 countries, so, if Putin ever sets foot in one of those nations he would be liable for arrest and trial. It is highly unlikely that he will be traveling out of his own environment, but his legal plight damages him abroad especially in countries like India, which is still sitting on the fence about the Russian invasion.

China is the dominant power in the Pacific. Xi Jinping has his eyes on Taiwan, an island with a dynamic economy and 23 million residents, the vast majority of whom want to maintain independence from Beijing and to continue with their democratic model of government.

Xi openly declares that Taiwan must bend the knee to Beijing within the next few years as Hong Kong was forced to do in 2020. The Chinese Communist Party is now in total control there, and they revealed their modus operandi after forcibly asserting control of that territory by arresting activists, seizing assets, firing government workers, detaining newspaper editors and rewriting school curricula. Goodbye to democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

When Beijing moves against Taiwan, they are likely to encounter fierce opposition from the strong local air force, navy and army. President Biden has warned Xi that his plans to forcibly occupy Taiwan are opposed by a clear majority of the people living on the island and that America will support the local resistance there.

Beijing does not want Ukraine to break ties with Moscow and maintain its democratic system. They know that the Taiwanese are drawing inspiration from developments in Kyiv. If Taiwan follows the same all-out defiance as the Ukrainian resistance fighters are showing, any attempted military takeover by China would lead inevitably to a massive conflagration with no assurance of a Beijing victory.

Despite hopes to the contrary, it is too soon to talk about the poorly-motivated Russian army collapsing before the determined resistance forces who are fighting for their families and their homes. Moscow is putting its economy on a wartime footing, suggesting that the state is getting ready for a long conflict. With both sides planning major offensives in the near future, the war is poised to continue for years.