How Ukraine equalizes the battlefield

Motives have mattered as much as weapons in the war with Russia, and Ukrainian soldiers reflect a democracy that inspires them.

Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces honor fallen soldiers near Kyiv May 1.

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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to How Ukraine equalizes the battlefield
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today