Most of us are familiar with the folk story “Stone Soup”.
The settings and the main characters may be slightly different in every country.
In Portugal, it’s a monk, in Sweden it’s a tramp, in France it’s a soldier returning home and in Germany it’s a pilgrim on his way to Jerusalem.
Sometimes it’s not a stone the story is centered around, but an axe, a button or a nail.
But the main course of events is the same everywhere: a hungry stranger arrives to a village and step-by-step, he tricks the people to add edible items to his inedible possession, promising an incredibly delicious dinner.
First it’s an onion. Then carrots. Then cabbages, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, meat and … on. And on.
The end product is a tasty soup, indeed. But we all know that not due to the stone.
The story concludes with the trickster either selling the object to the villagers or, like in Russia taking it with himself.
The morale is clear: it emphasizes the value of sharing and how far that can take us.
But, from another point of view, it is also a warning.
Without thinking, the villagers rushed into achieving a nonsensical task and, after a while, came so invested in it, sacrificed so much of their own resources that there was no sense in turning back, to stop and ponder on what they were doing and how reasonable it was.
They had to go all in.
Just like the tramp’s/soldier’s/monk’s situation was desperate, so was Ukraine’s.
There is no doubt: the war started by Russia was unjustified and illegitimate.
Yet, the sad reality is that no matter how heroically they are fighting, without Western efforts, Ukraine probably would have ended up with only a “stone” in the pot.
First it was food and aid and medical equipment and helmets.
Then it was guns and ammunition and grenades and other weapons.
Then it was sanctions.
Then it was more advanced weapons.
Then it got to Leopard, Challenger and Abrams tanks. Along with thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Now word is about complete ban on Russian fossil fuels and about the delivery of fighter jets. Something that a few months before seemed completely impossible.
Unfortunately, even those new deliveries and sacrifices cannot guarantee that Ukraine will eventually win that war.
Obviously, the fairy tales don’t add a formidable enemy into the equation. One that definitely doesn’t have infinite resources, but has much more than the main character. One that is working with its all might against him. Unless, of course, we consider ‘starving to death’ the enemy.
Russia has started to feel the consequences of the sanctions and has suffered probably more severe losses than Ukraine. But demography, economic size and time are on their side.
In Ukraine, casualties on the battlefield are mounting, the country’s infrastructure is in ruins. That much had Ukrainian officials already admitted, including President Zelensky.
Already before the invasion, an estimated 14,200-14,000 people died in the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. As of February 5, official civilian death toll was 7,155 people, with about 12,000 wounded. According to the OHCHR, the real number might be higher. More than 8 million people have left the country. Combatant casualties are far more difficult to count, especially as neither side is willing to share information on that, but even the most conservative estimates put Ukrainian loses above 100,000.
The recent estimate (published by the Government of Ukraine, the European Commission and the World Bank) puts the cost of reconstruction and recovery at a staggering $349 billion. A figure that is expected to grow exponentially if the war continues. That’s about 1.5 times the 2021 GDP of Ukraine.
The main character of the story says goodbye at the end and leaves. Probably is off to another village, to play the trick again. Ukraine is hopefully here to stay. Who is to finance it, if the Western countries/villagers deplete their own resources?
But Ukraine has only limited reserves.
On the other hand, battlefield losses seem to have less effect on influencing Russian decision making. Its army might run low on critical supplies and resources, but it has enough troops to sustain a new offensive. And Moscow can probably lose thousands more soldiers before political support would waver. It could redirect some of its oil exports to Asia and has found ways to weather the sanctions, as well. The chances of the current government collapsing are not unlikely, but not very high, either.
The decision to deliver tanks to Ukraine shows that the situation is serious.
It is unlikely that the delivery of fighter jets would change any of that. Especially not as fighter jets tend not to fly on their own, without highly trained pilots.
Leopards and Abramses could be replaced would those get demolished during their “solely defensive” usage, but the trained personnel operating them cannot.
Would the situation escalate further, as it is suggested that it would, with Moscow desperately trying to score at least some victory on the battlefield and with rumors of Russia preparing for a major spring offensive circulating around, the villagers would soon arrive to a crucial moment.
They would need to stop and reflect for a moment: are they willing to go all in, sending soldiers to the front (there is not much else left to do after sending in the fighter jets) or will they stop at “helping” and advising. And making the two fighting sides to sit down and talk.