YES VIRGINIA, THERE IS A GHOST OF KYIV
Immediately following the Russian invasion, a brave Ukrainian pilot strapped into a Cold War-era MiG-29 Fulcrum and took to the skies. Fueled by an undying love of their homeland, they quickly tallied up a combat record heretofore unseen.
Two Russian Su-35s, one Su-27, one MiG-29, and two Su-25s were brought down by a single pilot on the first day of conflict… All by the same Ukrainian pilot. That pilot became the first “ace” of the 21st century and has joined the ranks of legends like the Red Baron. Thus the legend of the "Ghost of Kyiv" was born.
Or is it?
Realistically, there should be no way a single MiG-29 should be capable of such a feat. While it is a capable aircraft, it is inferior to the Su-27. Compared to the more modern Su-35, the Fulcrum is outclassed in almost every way…
Aerial combat is not simply about "Fighter A" being better than "Fighter B". Pilot skill, ground support, intelligence, tactics, and sheer numbers can often sway a battle one way or another. It is possible, hypothetically, for a keen Ukrainian pilot to be "in the zone" and have a particularly good day flying several sorties in a "target rich environment".
Of course, as we all know, the first casualty of war is truth.
Before the first volley is fired, narratives are formed. One side needs a justification for attacking. The defender needs to prepare its population for siege. Propaganda is a weapon as old as war itself. The mission is simple: Demoralize the enemy while rallying your own forces.
In the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Ukraine has already won the propaganda battle.
Vladimir Putin's justification for invading Ukraine has landed on mostly deaf ears. His main argument, regarding NATO encroachment, has become self-defeating. By invading a sovereign nation, he has made the case for NATO membership. While Russia is not the superpower it once was, it still wields one of the world's largest militaries. Rolling into neighboring territory without sufficient justification is bound to give them "bully" status... Especially when that action mimics previous Soviet expansionism and Nazi blitzkrieg tactics of WW2.
Conversely, Ukrainian depictions have quickly earned them the "good guy" status in global perception. Stories of fearless civilians standing up to Russian soldiers. Outgunned Ukrainian troops telling a warship to "go fuck yourself". A heroic soldier sacrificing himself to destroy a bridge... These stories give the portrayal of righteous Ukrainians fighting off a vastly superior force.
The message is clear: Russia will pay dearly for every square foot of Ukrainian soil it occupies.
Internationally, Ukraine has emerged as the clear favorite.
Open military support is mostly off the table, out of fears that doing so could quickly escalate into World War III. Fortunately for Ukraine, other options can be brought to bear.
Harsh economic sanctions have already been imposed, crippling the Russian economy. Blocking Russia from the SWIFT International Banking System will have huge repercussions for it oil and gas industry. It has even been cut off from computer chip shipments.
So far, the "wild card" appears to be China. On the surface, China still maintains its close ties to Russia. In reality, the relationship has likely become much more complicated. China's economy is strong, but highly dependent on foreign trade. Openly supporting Russia's invasion would strain China's relations with the rest of the world. Cold War fears of a "Communist Alliance" between China and Russia would quickly resurface, leading to a mass exodus of foreign investors. China would cease to be the world's manufacturing hub.
If anything, the invasion of Ukraine may have given China a "preview" of what might happen if it decided to annex Taiwan. Indeed, if the US were to openly commit its military forces to the Ukraine, China could see that as the most oppurtune time, claiming "American expansionism" while also daring the US to commit its forces to multiple fronts.
Indeed, the most preferable outcome for the current Ukrainian/Russian conflict is for it to END QUICKLY. Thankfully, that might actually happen.
Peace talks have already been scheduled.
Most likely, Russian forces were convinced that its current invasion of Ukraine would echo the 2014 annexation of Crimea. During that conflict, Russian forces met very little resistance. That is not the case today. Instead, it has found itself much more akin to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Despite having superior force, the former Soviet Union found itself bogged down by determined insurgents. The Afghanistan occupation is thought to have been a factor in the downfall of the Soviet Union.
Now, in 2022, the world has little patience for such things. Years of a useless "War on Terror" followed by a global pandemic has left the world's population exhausted. "Bad actors" will quickly be ostracized and be left behind as the rest of us move forward.
Is the "Ghost of Kyiv" real?
Perhaps the stories are greatly exaggerated. Maybe one Ukrainian pilot downed a couple of Russian aircraft only to have the story embellished. Maybe many Russian casualties were wrongfully attributed to a single Ukrainian pilot. Maybe the "fog of war" led to casualties being misreported. Maybe gun-cam footage will surface showing all the rumors to be true...
Maybe it does not really matter in the end.
What matters is that the Ukrainian people have a hero to rally behind. What matters is a belief that Russian forces are not invincible, despite numerical and technological advantage. What matters is the belief that, no matter what the odds; the fight is winnable.
The "Ghost of Kyiv" is real enough to emerge victorious in the battle for morale. That is what matters.