Conflict in Ukraine: Between Peace and All-Out War

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Sergiu CEBAN
Recent weeks have offered both a timid hope for a cease-fire in Ukraine and the signals of risks for the conflict to escalate into an even hotter and broader scale
The conflict in Ukraine has passed another psychological threshold of 100 days. Moscow has failed to achieve a quick victory or at least an overwhelming advantage. However, the Ukrainian state has suffered heavy strategic damage, which will severely affect the economy and social stability. In fact, the neighboring country’s development has been set back by decades. Russia itself also suffers significant losses, ranking as an absolute leader in the number of sanctions imposed and losing access to a large part of its foreign exchange reserves. The fact that the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation has led to an energy and food crisis around the word confirms the global nature of this conflict. By invading Ukraine, the Kremlin has defied the West, seeking a part in writing the rules of the world order. Russia wanted to signal its determination to pursue its goals by force and to challenge a system in which key international political, financial, and commercial institutions are controlled by the United States and its allies. So far, there is no indication that Moscow is any closer to achieving these goals. On the contrary, judging by the statements of American and European leaders, the West is preparing for a protracted, weary struggle to retain its leading role. Experts say the fighting may cause the world economy to lose about $1 trillion, speed up inflationary processes, and increase the cost of raw materials. Grain and energy prices are already hitting historic records. This in turn leads to higher costs and more destabilization of economically weak regions of the world, including a new wave of migration from the global south to the north. Against this backdrop, the recent weeks have witnessed new hopeful tones in the mutual rhetoric of the West and Russia. Statements on the need for negotiations to end hostilities are becoming more and more frequent. Whether this is about a temporary cease-fire, a settlement of Russian-Ukrainian relations or the overall rethinking of the system of international relations is still hard to say. On the one hand, Washington continues supporting Kyiv on the military side, but on the other hand, we hear the words from representatives of the U.S. establishment that actually broadcast the United States’ willingness to reconsider its position on Ukraine, up to and including a deal with Moscow. Last week, a number of Western media outlets reported that representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union were holding regular meetings to discuss the terms of a ceasefire and a diplomatic settlement of the situation in Ukraine. In particular, they consider a plan proposed by Italy which envisages Ukraine’s neutrality in exchange for security guarantees and the start of Ukrainian-Russian talks on the future of Crimea and Donbass. Nevertheless, there is mounting concern in leading capitals that the conflict could drag on because Moscow and Kyiv refuse to compromise. Meanwhile, a growing number of reports suggest that if Ukraine chooses to make territorial concessions, the West will not object, as if hinting to Kyiv that losses are inevitable. For example, the U.S. administration is now openly debating territorial concessions and that it is up to Ukraine to decide where the dividing lines will be drawn after the end of the conflict. As a trial balloon, Ankara, which has rather good relations with Russia and Ukraine, is now trying to push through a so-called “grain truce”. It is supposed to unblock Ukrainian ports and allow agricultural products to be exported to world markets. If statements from Washington, Moscow, and Kyiv prove to be true, this deal (opening sea corridors in exchange for the removal of restrictions on certain Russian goods) has a good chance. This would be the first successful experience of interim arrangements on the way to a full resolution of the conflict. While the powerhouses are trying to find the keys to an armistice, analysts believe that the most realistic scenario for ending the war will be when one of the participants wins or when all the warring sides are convinced that further warfare is pointless. One thing is clear: regardless of whether the Kremlin wins or is painfully defeated, the global and, above all, the European space will in any case face political, economic, and military reorganization. Moldovan authorities proceed from the basic scenario, namely that Russian troops will try to lock Ukraine into a strategic horseshoe and cut it off from the Black Sea. That is why our government regularly monitors the situation in the Mykolayiv and Odessa regions to prep for a new wave of refugees in case of regional escalation. According to the prime minister, Western partners have been approached with requests for auxiliary military equipment, but there are also discussions about what we could ask for if we need lethal weapons. Looking at the developments in Ukraine, the Moldovan military is working to determine the most optimal concept on how to equip and train our armed forces. Despite the military support from Western countries, the armed standoff between Ukraine and Russia prompts one important conclusion: military methods to resolve conflicts are costly and barely effective. Global trade made countries and regions strongly interdependent and more sensitive to any crises. Any chain disruption automatically leads to a serious crisis in world markets. There is no longer any doubt that the present system of transnational security is in urgent need for reform, for it is almost exhausted. Powerful states act solely in their own interests, without regard to the opinions and stances of countries with lower military and economic potential. The invasion of Ukraine is largely a result of the lack of effective tools to seek a balance in inter-state relations. As a result, Moscow decided to solve its problems by military means. Alas, the fact that the U.S. has reserved colossal financial resources for military aid to Kyiv suggests that Washington is preparing for a long-term military scenario, whereas diplomacy is rather a plan B. Moscow is also not yet giving up on its stated goals, and continues to slowly pursue them on the battlefield, while drawing new red lines and speaking of a new phase of the conflict. So it is quite possible that the real war is yet to come, and it will last much longer than we all would like it to.