Home / Analytics / When Will the War End?
Sergiu CEBAN
At this point, it is absolutely unclear what could prompt Moscow, Kyiv and its international partners to come to the negotiating table and make some kind of serious agreement
For the third day, the Russian media have been actively covering the voluntary withdrawal of Ukrainian armed forces from the Azovstal plant, now used by Moscow to deal a painful image and moral-psychological blow to Kyiv. Meanwhile, Russian troops continue to retreat from Kharkov, and their advance in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions is rather slow. In general, there is almost no news from the battlegrounds that would evidence the advantage of either of the warring sides. Hence, the current state of confrontation is even more resembling a protracted war of attrition, and not just for Ukraine. Let’s be real: the continued hostilities will make it increasingly difficult for Western leaders to manage the socio-economic challenges and bear political costs from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It is due to the pressure of these circumstances that the European Union has so far been unable to adopt a sixth package of sanctions against Russia - primarily because some member states are not ready, for economic reasons, to impose an embargo on Russian oil imports. While the EU is busy trying to find a common denominator on the issue of anti-Russian sanctions, Moscow is making every effort to prove that the national currency and the economy are resistant to external shocks, by using the available financial reserves. Russian business is struggling to switch to the new track as quickly as possible, while the government is rapidly introducing the so-called “import substitution” mechanisms. Russian oligarchs are buying up at reduced prices assets owned by Western companies that have left Russia in order to help the state keep the socio-economic situation afloat. Moreover, the Russian leadership is deliberately extending the area of ramifications from the Ukrainian crisis, projecting the current events on global processes, primarily by breaking the traditional food supply chains with developing regions of the world. It is important for the Kremlin to do everything to ensure that the targeted sanctions do not only hit Russia, but also lead to international destabilization, which therefore would prompt the West to urgently seek peace with Moscow. After months of keeping an eye on the armed conflict in Ukraine, in the hope that the Kremlin would finally realize the gravity of its situation, Western countries have changed their tactics and are now bluntly talking about the importance of Ukraine’s victory. Moscow is expected to suffer the fate of Germany after World War I. Just yesterday, the head of European diplomacy (with his statements already reminding more of a defense rather than diplomatic official) said that Brussels will not let Kyiv run out of equipment at the critical moment of the battle. On the other hand, Moscow also assures that under no circumstances will it capitulate, no matter how strong the international pressure may be, and will keep moving toward achieving its goals set prior to the invasion of Ukraine. For now, it appears that the Russian authorities plan to seize all the territories of Donbass and create buffer zones around them, encircle the most effective units of Ukrainian troops and maintain control over the Kherson region to provide a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula. Such irreconcilable positions leave little chance that this war will end in the foreseeable future. This is also visible at the diplomatic level – the other day negotiators from both sides publicly announced that they had stopped contacts. Mikhail Podolyak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, said on a TV channel that the resumption of the negotiation process seems possible, but Kyiv is not going to concede anything in order to give the Russian leader an opportunity to save face. Moscow also confirmed that there are no further negotiations in any form because Ukraine has allegedly withdrawn from the dialogue. Interestingly, sources related to the negotiation process have recently reported that the delegations were not tasked with stopping the hostilities and achieving peace. It appears that officials from Kyiv and Moscow mainly discussed the forms of coexistence between the two states during the post-conflict period. But this is more of an aim for the distant future, rather than an effort towards a current result. The sides, of course, send signals about feasibility of restoring the contacts, but they sound frankly at odds with reality. For example, according to Volodymyr Zelensky, Kyiv is basically ready to restart talks on the peaceful settlement of the conflict, but only if the hostilities are stopped and Russian troops are withdrawn from Ukrainian territory. The new demands on the Russian Federation are even more ambitious, including the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the 2013 borders, that is, with Donbass and Crimea. Under such conditions, the possibility of reaching an agreement, even if the parties resume their dialogue, is reduced to zero. Despite the toughness of virtually all the countries directly or indirectly involved, many policymakers and experts are thinking about the ways to end the war. Nevertheless, it is still hard to imagine the exact formula for ending the conflict. Even if Russia’s second offensive in the south fails just as it did in the north of Ukraine, the international community will have to send a clear message to the Kremlin and offer a way out of the current crisis situation. It is important to contain the ramifications of the Russian-Ukrainian standoff without letting the situation escalate into a severe global crisis. However, if the creeping process of reaching the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is over, Moscow will have grounds to propose another intermediate phase of negotiations with Ukraine, which has been exhausted by the protracted armed confrontation. However, the talks, provisionally titled “Minsk 3”, should they eventually be held, will take place under completely different circumstances and with a broader geography of the frozen conflict. For Kyiv, this will be a strategically very unpleasant story which will unlikely restore the territorial integrity. We cannot ignore the stand of Western countries who flatly deny any legitimation of Ukraine’s territorial losses after the war. So, it is absolutely unclear what could prompt Moscow, Kyiv and its international partners to sit down at the negotiating table and reach any serious agreement. At this point, the fate of diplomatic negotiations is too heavily dependent on battlefield dynamics. This means that, unfortunately, the hostilities in Ukraine will not end in the near future and will persist in moderate intensity, with occasional major outbreaks. And this is the worst case scenario not only for the parties to the conflict but also for the European continent and the entire globe.