The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ukraine has survived half a year, but the war is probably not half over

Children play at a symbolic cemetery of cars shot by Russian troops, some of which are painted by local artists, in Irpin, Ukraine, earlier this month. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Aug. 24 marked the date, 31 years ago, on which Ukraine declared its independence from a collapsing Soviet Union and secured its national sovereignty. Doing his part to celebrate what has ever since been known as Independence Day in Ukraine, President Biden announced that the United States would send nearly $3 billion worth of weaponry and other materiel to the embattled country. Drawn from a $40 billion aid program Congress passed in May, this is the largest such package yet.

The day also marked six months since Russia invaded its next-door neighbor, throwing the entire world into turmoil for the sake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dreams of extinguishing Ukrainian democracy and restoring Russian power — and in flagrant violation of international law. The fact that Ukraine has survived, preserving most of its territory, that long — defying initial expectations of swift victory for Russia’s much larger military — is a tribute first and foremost to its people. Yet it could not have happened without support from international friends, including not only Mr. Biden but also a bipartisan coalition in Congress.

The war has reached the end of its beginning. What comes next, though, is uncertain. Ukraine has all but announced its intent to launch a counteroffensive aimed at retaking the strategic southern city of Kherson. It has made progress toward that objective in the form of daring, successful drone and sabotage attacks deep behind Russian lines in Crimea. This further shows the already demonstrated utility of U.S. equipment such as the HIMARs artillery system. All such results vindicate those who argued for overcoming fears of provoking Russia and pushing the boundaries on arms shipments by the United States.

Still, Russia remains entrenched in 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory, and Ukraine appears to lack enough troop strength to oust the invaders. Crippled as its economy has been by sanctions, Russia has managed to maintain relatively normal economic conditions, partly by sustaining grain and energy sales worth billions of dollars each month. Mr. Putin’s regime might yet develop internal fissures or face unrest over the war’s terrible human cost. For now, what’s impressive is how firm his hold on power remains, bolstered by systematic repression of dissent. The most recent example was the arrest Wednesday of Yekaterinburg, Russia’s former mayor, Yevgeny Roizman, apparently for referring to the war as “an invasion” rather than the officially approved “special military operation.”

It might be too much to label the war a stalemate; yet Ukraine’s best chances for major advances probably lie months, not days, away, after its troops have received further equipment and training. That implies that its supporters in the West must adjust their plans accordingly. While Europe has maintained admirable solidarity in the face of economic pain related to reducing dependence on Russian energy, France and Germany have lagged the United States, Britain, Poland and even Norway in terms of aid to Ukraine relative to their total economic output, according to the Ukraine Support Tracker database at Germany’s Kiel Institute for the World Economy. If the U.S.-led Western alliance has a weakness, “burden sharing” is it. If Ukraine is to have any chance of success, the alliance must solve that chronic problem, once and for all.

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