OK, disclaimer: I am not an expert in Ukraine.

However I did live there, and have been talking to a lot of experts.

My summary of what's going on (and would love for other folks to round out anything I'm missing):
1. Ukraine is very important, especially to Russia.

Symbolically: Has been the tipping point/signal for which ideology is winning for a very long time.

"Ukraine" literally means "at the edge" or "borderlands"

Russia's biggest industry is gas, which it sells largely to Europe, and Ukraine is necessary pipeline.

But also: Ukraine has very rich soil, valuable mines (especially in east/Donbas), important ports in Crimea.

Depending on which point in time you're looking at, Ukraine could "belong" to many different groups, but Putin considers himself an extension of Peter the Great, who established the "Russian Empire," including what is now the baltic states + bits of Ukraine/Poland.

In eastern Ukraine (Donbas) many people consider themselves Russian anyways, and Putin launched a more subtle takeover of eastern Ukraine in 2013.

Russia took over relatively quickly, and though the conflict lasted a long time it was clear to Putin that he would "win."
Now this is where it gets a little more controversial (and perhaps hopeful), but this is where I lean on experts more:

The current dominant theory is that Putin got a little cocky, and underestimated how difficult taking over western Ukraine would be, for a few reasons:
1. Russia has had such a top-down command on information through traditional channels that Putin has been able to say and do whatever he wants for a long time, with little pushback. The experts I talked to argued he's "out of touch" with how people actually feel.
2. There are very few data points for Putin on what it takes to take over a country. Georgia and eastern Ukraine were less prepared, had little warning, not very much money, and a lot of pro-Russian sentiment. They were "easy" relative to western Ukraine.
I can speak anecdotally having lived in Donetsk (10+ years ago), I would say the sentiment was 50/50 on whether they wanted to be a part of Russia anyways. I had friends join the separatist (pro-Russian) army. I speak Russian because everyone else in eastern Ukraine did.
But a couple things are different now:

Western Ukraine is very different than Eastern (like NYC vs rural Ohio different).

Also, the generational divide in Ukraine is somewhat extreme, and younger generations are very different than those 10 years older.
In 2010 there was a huge difference between people who grew up on "official" media and people who grew up a little bit online.

Now younger people in Ukraine are much closer to what I would consider Very Online.

Many would step on a college campus in the US and fit in quickly.
In the US we had wakeup calls where it became clear that new forms of communication were becoming far more important than traditional channels. 2008 (Obama + Facebook), 2016 (Trump + Twitter). We have Rogan becoming far more dominant than CNN.

That's not as clear in Russia.
That matters not just because of a propaganda war (which Ukraine was both very prepared for and is leaning on), but in military strategy.
In the US your feeds are full of memes about how badass Ukrainians are and how much they're dominating.

Ukrainian feeds have that, but also videos on how to take out a tank, how to cut off gas lines, how to make a molotov cocktail, etc.

Military strategy at Twitter speed.
From what I can see from on the ground, Ukrainians have gotten very good at disabling tanks and cutting off supply lines of fuel to those tanks.


A *lot* of Russian artillery is halted. And Ukrainians are planning this in real-time on social media.
I know this is too short of a summary, and it's still very early, but someone described it as Russia is trying to fight a 2020s war with 2010s tactics.

Normally a 10 year gap is fine, but things have changed that dramatically, both in strategy and sentiment.
This is exacerbated by the strong sense of nationalism and preparation in western Ukraine (Kyiv, Lviv). Largely in response to the annexation of the Donbas, but also because Ukrainians are a little bit more Online, and Online ~= Western.
In summary:

1. Putin seems to have thought this would be much easier
2. The "narrative" is turning harder against Russia than Putin would have expected
3. War has changed dramatically, even in last 10 years
4. There's a citizen army in Ukraine Russia wasn't anticipating
One side-note that could be surprisingly relevant:

An anonymous source told me Russia is almost entirely out of computer chips.

Of course there are the same supply chain issues as anywhere, but a key question is if Russia can get a chip company to somehow get them some.
As silly as that may seem a couple very intelligent sources tell me it could define in the war.

You literally can't produce modern weapons without them. You can't produce modern communications devices without them.

And right now Russia can't get them.
Meanwhile (if the admittedly pro-Ukrainian experts I talk to are to be believed), Putin is losing support back home.

Russians don't want the war, but more importantly most of the people directly surrounding him (Oligarchs) love Western conveniences and have very Western kids.
I would love for anyone to correct any mistakes I have made here.

It's still very early, but I am admittedly shocked at how well things are going for Ukraine at this point (and a little bit scared at how I imagine Putin could react to that).
Oh, and almost undoubtedly this thread will be targeted by a bunch of propaganda bots. So be cognizant of that in the replies.

Stay safe, friends 🇺🇦

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