Magical thinking will not end the war in Ukraine, no matter how many times you click your heels.
The war in Ukraine has been raging for a considerable duration now – 500 days if you date it back to the full-scale Russian invasion of February 2022, or nearly a decade if you start with attacks on Crimea and the Donbas in 2014. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, have been killed on the battlefields; civilian and solider, Russian and Ukrainian alike. Ukraine has been devastated economically, both by military attrition and deliberate, targeted Russian assaults on key civilian infrastructure. Genocidal massacres have been carried out by Russian forces, cementing names like Bucha in the historical record. Nations around the world have aided the Ukrainians in their brave resistance to Muscovite domination. Others have supported Russia’s revanchist claims. Suffice it to say, this war is as real as it gets.
Still, far too many distant observers of the conflict – politicians and commentators both – tend to engage with it on a purely fictionalized level. They do not conceive of the Russo-Ukrainian War as a real event impacting millions of lives every day, but as an abstract concept to be argued over on the internet. This abstraction from the ground level paints a flawed picture of reality and leads to magical thinking, an approach that is highly imaginative, yet entirely untethered from the realm of the possible or probable. This magical thinking is the antithesis of level-headed analysis and prompts the errors of bad strategy, foolish rhetoric, and visions of the war’s end that fail to take into account the realities of the conflict.
The most hardcore supporters of Ukraine in the West are too gung-ho about war aims, to the point of being entirely counterproductive. In geopolitics, prudence is often a virtue.
As you may have heard, the war in Ukraine that has been raging since the Russian invasion last February is reaching a new phase: a major Ukrainian counteroffensive. This push by Kyiv to retake its lost territory will fundamentally alter the entire picture and tenor of the war going forward. Lines of contact will shift, breakthroughs will occur, and new lines of contact and defense will be settled for the fall and winter campaigning seasons. Many of the NATO weapons systems transferred to Ukraine will get their first real chance to make a difference on the battlefield. Moves are likely to be made in several theaters, including partisan actions within Russia itself – something we have already seen in Belgorod and elsewhere. The war will likely continue for several years, but this Ukrainian counteroffensive can set the terms for what happens going forward.
Now that this new phase of the war has begun – one with Ukraine decidedly, albeit temporarily, on the front foot – commentators and politicians in the West have started to debate, discuss, and reassess war aims. This is always a crucial topic of conversation when a nation in involved in a war, whether directly as Ukraine and Russia are, or indirectly as the United States and NATO are. These discussions usually involve questions like “What do we seek to gain through this conflict?”, “What is a positive endgame for us in this war?”, and “What is an acceptable solution for our national interests?” These are very important questions, but the answers from those on the fringes of the discourse – especially those who are the most outwardly supportive of Ukraine – have been seriously lacking.