Ukraine Update: The two-year anniversary of Putin’s illegal, unprovoked invasion

It’s been two years since Russian dictator Vladimir Putin sent tanks rolling across the borders from Russia and Belarus, and began this long, nightmarish war. It’s safe to say that very few people on that first day of the invasion could have foreseen the situation that Ukraine is in today. It’s equally safe to say that few can predict where it will be in another year.

One day before that illegal, unprovoked invasion was launched, Daily Kos predicted that this war could be as damaging to Russia as the invasion of Afghanistan had been to the USSR four decades ago. That prediction was badly off base. The Soviets lost 14,500 soldiers over the 10 years of the Soviet-Afghan war. Russia lost 16,000 men before capturing the small city of Adviivka this past Saturday. 

Only it won’t be that way in Russian history books. Because the Russian defense minister has now declared that Avdiivka was a textbook operation achieved with minimal losses. So please ignore the videos you’ve seen, and don’t worry about the Russian military blogger who reported the truth about Russian losses. According to Russian Telegram channels, he committed suicide. Which may be the same thing as “sudden death syndrome.”

Victors get to write the history. And if everyone isn’t very careful, the next history of Europe will be written in Russian.

Putin expected to be in Kyiv in three days, and if others thought it would take longer, they didn’t think it would take all that much longer. U.S. intelligence was of the opinion that Russia would effectively win its war within days. 

Many thought that, with Ukraine forced to surrender the seat of government, some elements of its military might retreat into neighboring Poland, or collapse into smaller units that would sustain an ongoing guerrilla war. And even if many expected Russia to pay a high price in trying to subjugate its much smaller neighbor, few even entertained the idea that, two years later, the war would still be underway as anything more than a sporadic, partisan affair.

Back on that first day, Mark Hertling, the former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, scribbled some thoughts on Putin’s immediate goals.

By the first four of these benchmarks, Russia has utterly failed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy remains resolutely in control. The Ukrainian army is still facing off with Russia at every point of the line, and extracting heavy consequences for every attempted Russian advance. Ukraine’s population remains committed to the fight, and about 10 million of those who left at the outset of the invasion have returned to Ukraine even as the fighting continues. 

But on that last one—to weaken the West and divide NATO and the U.S.—Putin has scored a major victory. Week by week, day by day, Russia has gained more control over the Republican Party in the United States. Assistance to Ukraine passed overwhelmingly in the early days of the conflict, but since then, creeping Russian influence over Republicans has grown in both the House and Senate, reaching the point where positions that seemed outrageous two years ago now dominate the Republican Party. 

At the heart of this issue is an idolization of Putin as an authoritarian strongman who holds all the wealth and power imaginable, doling out slices of each to his friends based on their loyalty. It’s precisely this model that has made Donald Trump such a fan. Putin has helped cement his spot at the top of the GOP pantheon with large doses of racism, misogyny, and hatred for the LGBTQ+ community, not to mention a solid dose of cold-hearted death to his enemies. That’s the kind of leader that makes Ted Cruz swoon.

From Trump to Tucker Carlson, the right has spent the past two years selling Republicans on how nice it would be to get rid of that messy old democracy. Just let Trump run the show without interference, and you’ll get clean subways. Ones where the trains run on time.

And all it costs is your freedom. Not like you’d ever miss that old thing.

Gaining just one out of those five possible goals after two years of fighting might not seem like a win for Putin, but that one may be all he needs. A Reuters report from earlier this week sums it up this way: “While still motivated to fight Russian occupation, [Ukrainian troops on the front line] spoke of the challenges of holding off a larger and better supplied enemy as military support from the West slows despite pleas for more from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.”

In a tactical sense, the loss of Avdiivka doesn’t mean much. Capturing a city whose pre-invasion population was around only 30,000 at the cost of over 16,000 Russian lives and hundreds of tanks shouldn’t go in anyone’s textbook unless the title of that book is “How to Not Give a Damn About Your Troops.”

But like the fall of Bakhmut nine months ago, Avdiivka sends a message: Putin is willing to sacrifice. He’s a sadistic, sociopathic bastard who would direct a hundred thousand to their slaughter if that’s what it takes to capture the next city. He simply does not care.

The only time that Putin likely did care was when his former “chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin led the mercenary Wagner Group toward Moscow last June. But that coup was aborted en route, Prigozhin is dead, and Putin is back to casually defending his actions by telling stories about how Poland was unreasonable when it didn’t just hand over territory to the Nazis.

Militarily, this war has morphed into something that no one saw coming. It’s not war as Russia practiced it in Georgia or Chechnya. And despite an infusion of NATO weaponry and training, it’s nothing like any conflict the West ever envisioned. It is a drone war. A war that has elements of every war back to World War I mixed with scenes lifted from a “Terminator” movie.

There may be no better way to see the difference between how this war started and where things stand than to look at two videos. The first comes from Mar 4, 2022. It shows the “40-kilometer convoy” of Russian vehicles moving slowly from the Belarus border in the direction of Kyiv. 

The second video shows a warehouse in eastern Ukraine where Russia has hidden a cache of vehicles. Despite being undercover, Ukrainian FPV drones locate the entrance to the warehouse and slip inside. Once the vehicles are spotted, a whole series of drones enter, each targeting a different vehicle until the entire squad is destroyed.

Imagine what would happen today if Russia tried to form that 40-kilometer convoy in Ukrainian territory. The festival of explosions might have been visible in Moscow.

But Ukraine is in no way unique in making heavy use of drones. Russia has them, as well. Combine that with massive minefields and heavy fortifications, and Ukraine’s attempts to advance in the summer of 2023 stalled out. 

Now Russia is pushing back. And while it may seem that they’re using the same “throw out isolated squads to die for no purpose” strategy that they employed through the first year of the war, they’re not. They’re throwing out squads to die, but those squads are forcing a much smaller Ukrainian force to attempt to hold every location along a long, difficult front. Meanwhile, Russia reportedly shifts tens of thousands of troops around behind the line, looking for an attack on Kupyansk, or Robotyne, or maybe back to Bakhmut. Soon after the capture of the rubble that was Avdiivka, Russia began moving near Marinka, and they’ve already reported to have taken ground in that area.

Putin is still not going to get his three-day march to Kyiv. He’s not going to be there in three weeks. Or three months. But the summer ahead could be grim. 

Ukraine has been denied the ammunition and weapons it needs for so long that it’s unlikely to be able to mount anything like a counteroffensive this year. 2024 could be a year of hunkering down, trying to hang on as Russia launches one attack after another in an attempt to erase its humiliating losses—especially around Kharkiv. 

Things are not as bad as we thought they would be in those first days, but they’re certainly not where anyone who supports Ukraine wants them to be. 



If you’d shown these numbers to anyone two years ago, they would have been shocked at the horrific and historic scale of Russia’s defeat. 


This image from two years ago still works just fine today.

Don’t mess with this little girl. She’s got a good track record.

Click here to donate to those fleeing Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

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