Commentary by Vincent Campos, Foreign Service Officer (2004-2022)
Synopsis: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has achieved nearly the opposite result that he had originally intended. The Ukrainian people have proven resilient and brave, NATO is stronger and more united than has been seen in recent years, and the Russian war machine has suffered innumerable failures in strategies and tactics. Putin has succeeded in erasing all doubts of NATO’s resolve and relevance. Arguably one his most significant unintended impacts has been to create the currently insurmountable barriers to a negotiated settlement for a war of his own making which, by his own hand, he continues to violently escalate.
The future of NATO no longer in doubt
Prior to Joe Biden’s election as the 46th President of the United States, the U.S. commitment to NATO looked tenuous at best, bordering on the inconceivable: a possible unilateral withdrawal from the alliance. The future of the alliance entered a dark period, and members began contemplating the real possibility of a NATO without U.S. participation, or at best a reduced level of commitment. Indeed, the alliance had entered uncharted and potentially treacherous waters due in large part to U.S. wavering.
But shortly after taking office, President Biden made it clear that NATO remained a priority and that the U.S. was committed to remain a reliable partner. Putin’s brutal war on the territory and people of Ukraine tested the resolve of the U.S. and the NATO alliance, and the response was nothing short of remarkable. NATO is not going away; rather, NATO has become a stronger version of itself and has proven its worth via unrelenting support of Ukraine’s right to defend itself and to exist.
Putin’s monumental strategic blunder
Amassing an invasion force one year ago and expecting a Ukrainian capitulation within days was arguably Putin’s most consequential mistake in strategic planning and military operational tactics. In short, he grossly underestimated the unshakeable will of the Ukrainian military forces and the unbending resolve to the Ukrainian people to resist the invasion at all costs. Adding NATO support to the mix was clearly a shock to Putin’s war machine, and one year later Ukraine is still standing.
The unflinching resolve by the Ukrainians and NATO (including several other Western partners) revealed key aspects of Putin’s illogical strategy and faulty justification for war. First, his claim to prevent NATO expansion to Russia’s borders was immediately rendered moot by his military actions which, if he succeeded, would have guaranteed that Russia would have instead actually been expanded to NATO’s border. Second, any expectation on his part to stress and fracture the NATO alliance never materialized. Rather, he achieved the exact opposite effect. Putin errored by putting credence in the disparaging statements by then-President Trump at the 2018 Helsinki summit regarding the future of NATO. Putin’s expectations in this regard had summarily vanished not long after he invaded Ukraine.
Ukraine must emerge stronger than ever
Any thoughts or hopes that Ukraine would recapitulate in just days after the Russian invasion had soon disappeared due to the inexhaustible resolve and determination of the Ukrainian military and civil society. That resolve and determination lasted during the entire first year of this illegal war, and continues through today. The West (i.e. Europe, the U.S., and all contributing partners) have committed to stand with and fully support Ukraine’s right to exist and defend itself by every means possible and necessary. This resolve also extends to the millions of Ukrainians who fled into neighboring countries to escape Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations. They long to return home to the country that they love so dearly.
The future of Ukraine is at stake. In particular, the future of Ukraine eventually resides with the Ukrainian children who have also been targeted by Russia’s military and paramilitary forces and who have likewise demonstrated bravery and resilience that bodes well for Ukraine’s future. Putin’s war must end, his forces must depart Ukrainian soil, and Ukraine must be restored as the viable and productive country that truly reflects the will of its people to live, survive and thrive.
Vincent Campos is a former Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State (2004 to 2022). Prior to joining State, he served as a U.S. Coast Guard officer in various operational and strategic functions, including as a Director in a three-year special multiagency assignment for the Office of the Vice President. His federal career brought him to over 60 countries worldwide including long-term assignments in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. His comments reflect his personal views and do not necessarily reflect U.S. government policy.