Putin and Ukraine – Ten Years On

Trade unions march in solidarity with Ukraine

After two years of full-scale war, Pete Duncan says arming Ukraine is more imperative than ever

February 2024 marked ten years since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and two years since Putin launched his full-scale attack on Ukraine. All this time the people of Ukraine have been resisting this brutal imperialist aggression, suffering tens of thousands of deaths and injured. When the war ends, the country will be full of amputees, veterans lacking arms or legs. No one knows how many civilian casualties there are, but the whole country faces a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Chartist has consistently called on countries to supply Ukraine with whatever weapons it needs to defeat Russia. For the last two years, Western countries starting with Britain have been giving weapons from their own stocks, but with delays and in insufficient quantities. It has been enough to let Ukraine carry on fighting, and make some advances, but not enough to force a substantial Russian retreat. Now this supply is threatened. A victory for Donald Trump in November might lead to the end of all American support for Ukraine. When a security package including $60 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine was held up in the US House of Representatives last autumn, it seemed that this was a temporary hitch. But in January it transpired that the Democrats in Congress and the White House had failed to do a deal with the Republicans to unblock the money, and the hitch looked permanent. Since America provides several times more military aid to Ukraine than all the other donors put together, this will have a serious impact on what Ukraine can do. The EU has overruled the attempt of the anti-democratic prime minister of Hungary, Victor Orban, to prevent its planned package of aid. The forthcoming elections for the European Parliament, however, will show a shift to the right, and this may affect the level of help from the EU and its members.   

Why has the British Conservative government, on the other hand, continued military support for Ukraine? Undoubtedly, when Boris Johnson was having to deal with repeated complaints about his colleagues’ and his own misbehaviour around Covid, he found the gung-ho image of a defender of freedom a welcome distraction for the voters and his own MPs. Kyiv offered good photo-opportunities, especially when it was not under missile attack. There are also more deep-seated strategic reasons. For centuries, British policy has opposed the threat of a single power becoming dominant in Europe. If Russia subdued Ukraine, it would be likely to move on and threaten other European states, including NATO allies. The shadow of Britain’s appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s still hangs over policymakers in Whitehall today.

Ukraine has made some impressive gains over the last year. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has largely been forced out of Sevastopol and Crimea into Novorossiisk and other ports further away from Ukraine. Drones have attacked targets in distant regions of Russia, including oil and gas refineries in the Leningrad oblast’ and St Petersburg itself. The results of Ukraine’s summer offensive, however, were disappointing, as it came up against strong Russian defences and mines. While Ukraine established a foothold on the left bank of the Dnipro from Kherson, it advanced only a fraction of the way towards the point where it could cut Russia’s land bridge between the Donbas and Crimea.

The Ukrainians lack not only weapons but, increasingly, soldiers. To enable any sort of rotation of the troops who have been at the front for a year or more, military “mobilizers” now prowl around bars and bus stops looking for men to conscript. It is hard to see how Zelenskiy’s dismissal of the commander-in-chief, Zaluzhnyi, will improve Ukraine’s position. 

In Russia, Putin’s war economy is now producing more weapons than at any time since the Cold War, while it imports drones and missiles from North Korea and Iran. Wives, mothers, daughters and sisters of Russian conscripts have been protesting in different regions against their men being sent to the front, while opponents of the war itself face ever longer sentences in labour camps. The Russian Army, though, is now increasing its manpower by recruiting from Russia’s prisons and the same labour camps. They will go on the offensive in the spring.

Unless the world’s democracies do more to help Ukraine, it will struggle to hold on to the territory it now holds, and its people will make still more sacrifices.



  1. Russia’s Baltic neighbours don’t need convincing and Sweden joining NATO is conclusive. Under Putin, the Bear is once again a threat to European peace.

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