The Christian Science Monitor
How Ukraine equalizes the battlefield
The Monitor’s Editorial Board – May 6, 2022
On May 9, Moscow will again celebrate Victory Day, marking the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany, but this year’s military display in Red Square will be more subdued than in past years. One reason is that the invasion of Ukraine has not gone well. Ten weeks into the war, the Kremlin may be wondering why some 200,000 Russian soldiers and better armaments have not defeated a much smaller enemy.
A big reason is that Russia’s superior numbers are no match for the superior motives of Ukrainian fighters. Not only are Ukrainians defending their country’s sovereignty and know their terrain well; they are more certain than Russian soldiers that they reflect the qualities of their society, such as equality-based rule of law.
While both nations have compulsory military service, far more of Russia’s troops are drafted, many of them unwilling conscripts in a war they barely understand. Bribery to evade the draft is common in Russia. In Ukraine’s army, forced conscription has been rare during the war because of a rush of volunteer fighters. The country’s democratic reforms have reduced corruption in the military and allowed commanders to grant more freedom for officers to act on their own. Valeriy Zaluzhnyy, the commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, tells officers to “turn your face to the people, to your subordinates.”
The ability of Ukraine’s soldiers to collaborate and improvise comes out of the country’s young democracy. As President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told The Economist last month, “It’s not about who has more weapons or more money or gas or oil, et cetera. And that’s why we have to have agency. That’s what I understood, the first thing that I understood, that we the people have [agency]. People are leaders.”
If history is any guide, Ukraine will win this war. In their 2002 book, scholars Dan Reiter and Allan C. Stam looked at wars since 1815 and found that democracies won more than three-quarters of them. One reason: An emphasis on individual liberties and rights results in better leadership in warfare. So far, Ukraine’s battlefield victories fit the book.