- As the Russian war in Ukraine continues, there seems to be no clear end in sight.
- A military expert said Putin is in “too deep” and unlikely to pull out without apparent successes.
- Here are six ways the conflict could progress and what victory could look like for both sides.
As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its eighth month, there is still no clear end to the massacre in sight. Tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed or maimed, entire cities have been reduced to twisted rubble, there are allegations of torture and atrocities by Russian occupiers, and millions have become refugees.
While Russia has occupied parts of the territory to the south and east of the country, Ukraine has put up a tougher fight than anyone expected, often humiliating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion forces who, on paper, were intended to destroy Ukraine within days. to overwhelm.
Not only have the Ukrainian defenders repulsed an all-out conquest of Russia, they have also recaptured parts of the country by launching well-organized, daring counter-offensive to the east and south.
Despite the defeats on the battlefield, however, Russia still has destructive military capabilities on which it can draw. In recent weeks, it has launched a missile and drone blitz of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Although the biggest war in Europe since 1945 seems to have entered a phase of attrition, there are several ways in which the conflict can develop.
If the fighting comes to a stalemate, there could be a negotiated, temporary ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine, according to Seth Jones, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, International Security Program.
“However, that probably wouldn’t end. That would mean that the state of active warfare would decline, at least temporarily, and it becomes something closer to a frozen conflict that can heat up or cool down depending on the range of factors,” he said. said.
Jones pointed to the two Chechen wars that took place in the 1990s. Russia negotiated a ceasefire in 1994, which ended the first war, but resumed another war three years later and stepped up its attack.
In this scenario, Russia could hope that the US and other Western countries lose interest in the conflict and in supporting Ukraine.
“That would ultimately change the balance of power in Russia’s favor and allow Russia to retake territory in February as it ideally would like,” Jones said.
A peace agreement
It is possible that the war could end with a peace deal, although a settlement is difficult due to the different goals of Russia and Ukraine and what they both consider to be their rightful territory.
“I think Vladimir Putin is in too deep right now. He has invested far too much political and military capital right now to get himself out of the war with no apparent successes,” Jones said.
Jones said that while it’s not clear what Putin would accept as a “success”, he might settle for Russia taking parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts, which he could then consider as his intended targets.
The more complicated question is what Ukraine would be willing to give up in a peace deal. Jones said it would be almost “politically suicidal” for a leader in Kiev to give away any Ukrainian territory.
When it began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s goal was to take over the country completely.
Jones said it is important to note that Ukraine has already achieved an important victory by preventing Russia from achieving that goal.
“Undoubtedly, at least until February 2022, the Russians were the third most powerful military army in the world, behind the US and the Chinese. So they have already prevented a Russian blitzkrieg operation to take the capital, overthrow the government and either integrate into Russia or set up a puppet government,” he said.
It is now unlikely that Russia would be able to completely turn the war around and achieve its original goals, but it could accept a “victory” in the form of a peace deal in which it takes up more territory than it had before the invasion. began.
Russian retreat, Ukrainian victory
As long as Putin is at the helm of the country, it is highly unlikely that Russian troops would withdraw completely, Jones said.
“In Russia, bad things happen to rulers who lose wars,” Mark Cancian, a retired US Marines colonel and senior adviser to the CSIS, previously told Insider.
But despite Russia’s strongman facing discontent at home over the rising number of war casualties, the partial mobilization of reservists and a sanctions-ravaged economy, he appears to be showing no signs of withdrawal.
While he may be more likely than ever to be overthrown by a coup, experts have previously said the Russian leader has made his regime “coup-proof” through a culture of mistrust among Russian intelligence services.
However, a total withdrawal from Russia could be possible if Putin were impeached or died. His alleged health problems have also long been rumored, although US intelligence and military experts have warned there is no credible evidence that he is ill.
Ukrainians believe that an outright victory is possible. Svitlana Morenets, a Ukrainian journalist who works for British news magazine The Spectator, spoke Friday during a debate titled “Is it time to make peace in Ukraine.”
The plan is not for years of struggle, but for Russia’s military defeat, she said. She highlighted Putin’s recent climb over the “grain corridor” as an example of Russia’s growing weakness.
long term war
Not all wars end with a clear victory for one side. Another possibility is that the fighting could continue without a ceasefire or settlement, which Jones said could take years.
This could include special forces fighting back and forth on contact lines, guerrilla action from Ukraine in Russian-controlled areas, and long-range bombing of Ukrainian territory from Russia or Belarus.
At the current stage, the conflict seems to have turned into a war of attrition. Rather than taking up more territory, Russia’s goals in the current phase of the war seem to be to weaken Ukraine’s resources, economy and military.
It is unclear which side could hold out longer, although Russia has suffered significant losses in terms of soldiers and weapons.
According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, newly appointed Russian General Sergey Surovikin plans to build a solid line of defense in the occupied territories and effectively freeze the war over the winter.
Russia would not attempt another large-scale offensive on Ukrainian soil at this time and would take time to rebuild its combat capabilities, the think tank said.
Nuclear war and/or NATO intervention
Putin has repeatedly made nuclear threats since he began the invasion of Ukraine, claiming in September that it was “no bluff”.
Western countries and experts are divided on how seriously they should take the threats.
Jones said there are great risks associated with the use of nuclear weapons, especially if they are detonated by Putin in areas he claims are Russian. There would also be a risk of nuclear fallout on Russian territory due to its proximity.
If Russian forces face a large-scale military defeat, Putin could use a nuclear weapon on the battlefield, but Jones said the risks of using nuclear weapons likely outweigh the benefits.
“There are a lot of risks involved in making that nuclear taboo, politically and diplomatically. What would that mean for Vladimir Putin’s regime? use,” he said.
It’s unclear whether NATO would be involved in that scenario, Jones said. A senior official previously said a Russian nuclear attack could trigger a “physical reaction” from NATO itself.
However, Jones said NATO declaring war on Russia could spark a major war that could attract other countries like China, which is an outcome the organization likely wants to avoid.
To avoid that scenario, NATO would probably first step up sanctions and support Ukraine with weapons.