March 13, 2023:
Ukraine has to cope with a growing amount of political and military combat fatigue. For troops or civilians exposed to battlefield violence, combat fatigue is now called PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is a 21st century term even though the concept was first described in the 1980s. In the 21st century, more effective tools and techniques for measuring PTSD and the impact of various treatments, techniques and medications are used to deal with the problem.
There’s lots of PTSD in Ukraine, among both combatants and civilians. The presence of PTSD is obvious for military personnel but less so for civilians. For as long as there has been organized violence against civilians, this use of “terror” to demoralize, disorient or distract civilians has been used and abused.
The political version of all this is more accurately described as “combat fatigue”. This was the term for combat-related stress that was popular before the use of PTSD became common. Political combat fatigue is something Russia, Ukraine and their NATO allies have to deal with. A century ago, communist and fascists (especially the Nazis) developed and used many new techniques for causing and manipulating political combat fatigue. Such techniques are now commonly used, abused and developed into more effective tools.
Nations supporting Ukraine have to pay attention to the impact of combat fatigue on local popular support for the continuing costs of providing Ukraine with weapons. Russia has been losing the war but is currently determined to keep fighting, despite the growing combat fatigue among military-age Russian civilians. That’s because those forced to join the army often find themselves sent to Ukraine with little or no training, inadequate weapons and non-existent leaders. The result is generally death, injury, incapacitating illness, desertion or capture by the enemy. Senior Russian military and political leaders are somewhat paralyzed by all the bad decisions Russia has made and none of them is powerful enough to change the situation. Change will eventually happen but there is no timetable for such events.
Ukraine wants to end the war by re-capturing all its Russian-occupied territory (about 16 percent of the country). To do that it needs the timely support of NATO allies to supply the necessary weapons, ammunition, military equipment and non-military aid. Ukrainian and NATO military leaders tend to agree on what is needed but politicians are less able, or willing, to understand the requirements for victory against the Russians. There are also politicians that don’t believe there is a long-term threat from Russia and are willing to settle for a long-term ceasefire even if it means Russian continues to occupy Ukrainian territory. Western economic sanctions have crippled the Russian ability to produce the most sophisticated weapons and some Western politicians see this as a suitable justification for greatly reducing aid to Ukraine.
As the war continues the financial burden on NATO nations becomes more of a problem for local politicians. Russian Information War efforts keep pressing this angle because in the long run it works. This means planting a lot of false media reports that justify reducing financial support for Ukraine. Some Western media accepts the Russian disinformation without checking to see if it is valid.
In democracies, voter attitudes count and over time minor irritations can turn into major problems. Such is the case with support for wars. In the United States any war that lasts more than three years results in a sharp drop in popular support and that often plays an important role in war's ending. The Ukraine War is unique in that it is Ukrainians who are doing all the fighting and dying to stop the Russians. NATO nations spend a lot of money on weapons and reconstruction support for Ukraine. NATO nations have less money to spend on their domestic constituencies and this eventually becomes a problem, even if a lot of locals are not being killed. In Russia the traditions are different. Russians are willing to endure more financial and human losses to defend the homeland. Russian leaders justify invasion of Ukraine by insisting that Ukraine is an essential and historical part of Russia and that NATO nations have deceived Ukrainians into believing that Ukraine is a legitimate sovereign state. Russians have never tried to justify a war of conquest against a neighbor this way before. Russia has had lots of brief border wars, fought to settle disagreements over exactly where the border should be.
Russia also has a history of empire building, in which wars with weaker neighbors result in annexation. This is the reason why NATO exists; to protect member states from Russian aggression. Russia knows this but prefers to call NATO the aggressor. This has believers in Russia who were perplexed at the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Most of the Soviet citizens no longer supported their government and the choice was either dissolution or civil war. At the time it was clear to most pro-Soviet Russians that a civil war was unlikely to preserve the Soviet Union and the fighting could cause enormous losses (economic and human) to those involved. Instead, the Soviet Union peacefully dissolved into fifteen sovereign nations. The largest was Russia, with about half the Soviet Union’s population and 77 percent of its territory. This meant that none of the new states were as large as Russia. In terms of population, Ukraine was second largest, with about a third as many people as Russia but much less territory as Russia still stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
Many mid-level Soviet officials disagreed with the dissolution but couldn’t stop it. By the end of the 1990s, these officials had gained political power and in 2008 began rebuilding the Soviet Union. Tiny bits of Georgia, in the Caucasus, were the first taken. In 2014 Russia grabbed about 20 percent of Ukraine. About ten percent of Moldova (a post-Soviet state between Romania and Ukraine) wanted to be independent (as Transnistria) of Moldova and called on Russia to help with that. Russia wants to annex most of the former Soviet states that became independent in 1991. Several of these are now NATO members. NATO is a mutual defense organization. If one NATO member is attacked, all NATO members will join in the defense of the NATO country under attack. Russia now knows that NATO will oppose an attack on a member and, in the case of Ukraine, with a nation that wanted to become a member, especially after 2014.