by Jakub Grygiel
The war in Ukraine, which began in 2014 and escalated in February 2022 with a large-scale Russian attack, is continuing. Ukrainian soldiers are slogging through layers of Russian defensive positions (the so-called “Surovikin line,” named after a Russian general who has already been sacked by Putin), slowly reconquering lost territories. With a few spectacular actions, Ukraine is also targeting Russian airbases and logistical hubs in Crimea, and deep inside Russia, with the goal of wearing down Putin’s military capabilities. This will be a long conflict. Both before the Russian invasion and as war has continued and taken its terrible toll, many analysts have asked whether Ukraine can win and, therefore, whether it ought to negotiate to trade land for peace.
The fact that Ukraine managed to arrest and then reverse the Russian attack last year is itself a great success, that undermines the recurrent pessimistic analyses of Ukrainian efforts. Nonetheless, the question of the possibility of Ukraine’s success or victory remains. And it raises the concurrent question of whether Ukraine’s defensive war is just. If success is in fact difficult, perhaps impossible, to achieve, can even a defensive war be just? Can Ukrainian military operations satisfy one of the principles of the just war tradition, namely that of “reasonable hope for success?”
Originally published on 14 November 2023 at Public Discourse.
Jakub Grygiel, Ph.D. is an IHE Scholar and professor of politics at The Catholic University of America.