The biggest geopolitical conflict to have rocked planet earth in recent years looks likely to turn into an entrenched war nearly one year since it broke out. The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine – which will mark its first anniversary a month from now – has destroyed Ukrainian lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure and also dangerously destabilized European peace, commodity markets, and international diplomacy.
Facing setbacks on the ground, the Russian armed forces have resorted to aerial assaults in recent months, bombarding critical infrastructure to break the will of the target population. The Ukrainian government has held its ground, beating back troops from mainland Ukraine and re-taking some territory. But overall, it’s a stalemate, as neither the aggressor nor the victim is in a position to declare victory yet.
That makes it a good time to sit at the table and talk peace. Security experts caution that Ukrainian gains would be limited in the future, despite massive weapons support from the West. But the Ukrainian government can’t give away land in return for peace. Meanwhile, Russia seems comfortable settling into a constant air offensive causing serious damage, but it won’t be able to capture the capital Kyiv unless its armed forces invaded again with a focused strategy. That could take a year, and Putin has all the time in the world. In the meantime, he can continue to issue the occasional nuclear threat to rattle the West.
The role of international players becomes critical in forcing both parties to come to a compromise, if further humanitarian catastrophe is to be averted and Ukrainian reconstruction is to commence soon to return normalcy there. While China has reportedly nudged Russia to end the war, it could bring more pressure to bear on its junior economic partner. India, which is Russia’s longtime friend in this part of the world, has publicly criticized Russian aggression, but it did not join Western retaliatory measures. The UN chief appealed many times to end this war as parts of the world became hungrier, but Russia chose to ignore it.
Meanwhile, major European and North American capitals seem committed to help Ukraine until Russia is completely driven out. The ‘Ukraine fatigue’ – if it exists – was invisible at the security conference in Germany last weekend where Ukraine was promised a new wave of military assistance from several countries. Ukraine will get its hands on more Western hardware including armored vehicles, air defense systems, missile carriers, etc. Talks are ongoing to provide American and German tanks. Other than donating military hardware, the West is also actively training Ukrainian forces in third countries.
The US itself has committed more than $26 billion in security assistance (mostly in the form of weapons) since Ukraine came under attack. The American establishment, and their European allies, seem committed to turning Ukraine into another Afghanistan for Russia. Meanwhile, misinformation strengthens the perception among Russian people that they are fighting NATO in Ukraine. If better sense did not prevail, the situation is ripe for a major global conflict if NATO troops are actually drawn into fighting Russia.