IT will be one year ago tomorrow, on February 24, that Russia invaded Ukraine. What followed has been the biggest armed conflict in Europe for 80 years. Anyone in doubt about the parlous state the world now finds itself in as a result of this war need only have listened to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s speech on Tuesday or taken note of US president Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv. Neither leader is in the mood for compromise, as was evident in both their speeches, made 800 miles apart in Moscow and the Polish capital Warsaw.

As a Washington Post headline summed it up, while Biden’s speech “projected resolve”, Putin’s “twisted reality”. In short, it was a snapshot of vastly different world views which, and every day that passes in Ukraine’s war only widens the chasm between Moscow and the West.

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Anyone who thinks that the situation one year on is less dangerous than before needs to think again. For his part, Putin marked the anniversary which has killed or wounded 200,000 of Russia’s own soldiers and turned 16 million Ukrainians into refugees by suspending Russia’s participation in a key nuclear arms deal that kept the threat of nuclear war at bay.

Just to put this in context, Putin’s move to suspend the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty means that the last remaining nuclear deal between the US and Russia is effectively dead, taking the world back to a dangerous era of nuclear deregulation. Given Putin’s unpredictability and what passes for rational thought from the Russian leader these days, the dangers of this cannot be over emphasised.

Some, of course, will argue that Putin’s threat is nothing more than an apparent attempt to scare the US and its Western allies into reducing or suspending our arms and financial support to Ukraine.

The National: President Putin. Pic: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photos/Via AP

Even if that is the case, the consequences of cowing to such intimidation are obvious. Not only would it give Putin precisely the leverage he wants in Ukraine but also embolden the Kremlin’s efforts to bring other sovereign nations under what the Russian dictator believes should be Moscow’s control.

This is just one of many lessons the war in Ukraine has revealed. There are others, too, well worth taking note of as we mark 365 days of conflict. As two senior analysts writing in Foreign Affairs magazine recently pointed out: “The war has revealed the full extent of Putin’s personalised political system… it’s now 23 years that Putin has been in charge of the Russian state and there are no obvious checks on his power”.

If anything, Putin’s speech this week highlighted the way his war in Ukraine is closely linked to a parallel effort to stamp out domestic dissent and seal off Russia from what he condemns as hostile or degenerate western influences.

How telling it was that on numerous occasions in his speech, Putin was searingly critical of Russian business oligarchs for seeking to maintain privileged lives in the West, but at the same time heaping praise on the Orthodox Christian religion which he clearly sees as the roots of historical Russian identity. In other words, this is Russia as Putin perceives it to be and to ensure it fits its assigned identity, he has become a law unto himself.

As René Nyberg, the former Finnish ambassador to Moscow, observed in the same Foreign Affairs magazine article, “I would never have imagined that I would miss the Politburo… there is no political organisation in Russia that has the power to hold the president and commander in chief accountable”.

Among other lessons that the war has revealed is the importance of alliances. Having had precisely the opposite effect that Putin had hoped for, the war has given Nato a new lease of life even if it has underlined the extent to which its European members remain dangerously dependent on the US.

In a recent poll that took place between December 2022 and January this year by Oxford University in nine EU countries, the UK, China, India, Turkey, Russia and the US, the results suggest that since Russia’s war in Ukraine began, the US and its European allies have regained their unity and sense of purpose.

That said, the study also reveals a wide gap between the West and the “rest” when it comes to their desired outcomes for the war and differing understandings of why the US and Europe support Ukraine.

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Not that everything is rock solid and cosy even among Western allies. Outwardly, there might seem like a sense of solidarity, but reports suggest that behind the scenes in private, anxious nagging questions remain the order of the day.

Questions like, which side is winning on the battlefield? Or, if the war drags on, do Ukraine and its Western backers have the necessary staying power? Then there is that persistent issue of a diplomatic resolution to the war – and can Russia be forced to accept a peace on terms acceptable to Ukraine?

Some optimistic Western officials have suggested a hopeful scenario whereby Ukraine in a spring counter-offensive might push Russia back to the gates of Crimea perhaps forcing Putin to the negotiating table. In an ideal world, such an unfolding of events would be achieved by the summer, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that such a scenario is only speculation at best and illusory in the worst instance.

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A recent poll of European Union policymakers, conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations, shows that European nations differ widely on what outcome in the war they see as realistic. Only a few of the respondents appear to perceive Ukraine’s “full liberation” as a likely outcome while others expect that Russia will retain control over some Ukrainian territory.

A year into Putin’s war, it’s clear that he is willing to sacrifice untold lives to consolidate his power and Russia’s imperial interests. It’s clear also that the West, far from shying away, has doubled down on its support for Ukraine.

A wide range of scenarios that are viable to a different extent may unfold in the coming months, but, for now, as we move into the second year, both sides are preparing large-scale offensives that will intensify the bloodletting. Only the most naïve would deny that the war now presents us with a turning point in world history. It’s hard to avoid the ominous feeling that in global terms, even more dangerous times lie just around the corner.