Today marks one year since Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, aiming to quickly take Kyiv and conquer the country without resistance. Fighting between Russia and Ukraine dates back to Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and the subsequent Russian-backed armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. But prior to last February, Russia could plausibly deny direct involvement in the separatist efforts. Moreover, the annexation of Crimea, while illegal under international law, did not result in any casualties. It was the epitome of a fait accompli.
That has not been the case with the war over the past year, which has caused massive military casualties on both sides and widespread destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure. Russian forces have also systematically terrorized and killed Ukrainian civilians, in what the U.S. government is now openly characterizing as war crimes. Prior to last year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was known in the West as either the world leader with the greatest comedic acumen or the central figure in former U.S. President Donald Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. He is now called this century’s “Churchill.”
Russia’s invasion also moved Ukraine to the front of the line for European Union accession, prompted Finland and Sweden to abandon their formal positions of neutrality and apply for NATO membership, and transformed the EU itself into a direct provider of security aid to Ukraine.