Fears of escalation are weakening the west’s full commitment to sanctions against Russia and military support for Kyiv
When Vladmir Putin rolled the dice of war just over a month ago, he was not alone in thinking that his imperial enterprise was a dead cert. More than a few senior figures in the British and other western governments shared his assumption that Russian forces possessed the numerical and technological superiority to prevail, and swiftly. It was widely thought that by now we would be looking at a subjugated Ukraine while a triumphant Putin taunted the west to do anything about it. Belligerent autocrats the world over would have been encouraged to believe that tomorrow belongs to dictatorships and the liberal democracies would never have looked so feeble. The decline of the west would no longer be a contentious draft of the history of the early 21st century. It would be more like a bitter fact.
So when the leaders of Nato, the EU and the G7 recently gathered in Brussels, one of the strongest emotions was sheer relief that the Russian invasion has not gone to Putin’s plan. Only a minority of the credit for that belongs to western leaders, too many of whom were slow to supply the Ukrainians with the means to defend themselves and some of whom are still not rising to the gravity of the moment. The failure of Putin’s gamble is down to Russian military incompetence making contact with heroic, fierce and skilful Ukrainian resistance. In the early days of the conflict, the White House thought it so unlikely that Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government could survive that it offered an escape route to save him from capture by the Russians. His response was the magnificently scornful “I need ammunition, not a ride”. The inspirational example of the Ukrainian leader and his defiant people has played a vital role in rallying and unifying the west.