When Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, February 24, there was much speculation from the usual policy experts and media pundits regarding the conclusion of this armed aggression and what it would mean for future Europe.
The most pessimistic scenario was suggested by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley that the war could end quickly only to reverse his opinion two months later when he suggested it could drag on for years.
A short war certainly seemed likely only three days after the start when Ukraine’s capital Kyiv came under bombardment and the two nations agreed to talk.
Yet Russia failed to capture Kyiv as its forces were repulsed by an unexpectedly strong Ukraine resistance. This was followed by retreats from Odesa and Kharkiv.
Western powers—in a rare moment of unity—agreed to provide military supplies to Ukraine and apply strong economic sanctions on Russia. But NATO and the United States refused to send actual troops to aid to aid Kyiv for fear of escalating the military conflict beyond the Ukraine and Russia borders.
The supply of weapons from the West has aided Ukraine’s defense significantly. But the economic sanctions have been less effective.
In earlier blogs, I wrote that the sanctions would not work. That prediction has proved true. In fact, as the war grinds on, Europe and the U.S. are experiencing backlashes from the sanctions. Inflation, higher energy prices and the prospect of recession threaten the West and raise the question of its resolve.
As a pretext for the February invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin a few days earlier had recognized the independence of the pro-Russian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. And threatened to crush what he called the Nazi regime of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Rebuffed in attempts to capture Kyiv and further thwarted by Ukraine troops with military aid from NATO countries, Russian forces now have focused consolidating their control of Donetsk and Luhansk.
It appears to this observer that the war in Ukraine will continue as a protracted struggle until both sides sit down and begin serious negotiations for a ceasefire and an end to hostilities.
The most likely scenario will be Ukraine’s reluctant recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states and in return Russian will withdraw its forces from the territories.
As distasteful as this will be to Kyiv, it will preserve Ukraine and the Zelensky government. And Russia will forgo an actual annexation of Donbas as happened eight years ago in Crimea.
Russia holds the upper hand in terms of its willingness—despite economic sanctions imposed by the West—to pursue a drawn out conflict.
As the rest of Europe continues to suffer in coming months from the consequences of the war, pressure will grow from Ukraine’s allies to persuade Zelensky to agree to a settlement.