Six Months of the Conflict in Ukraine: No Hope for a Speedy Peace

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Sergiu CEBAN
Despite the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation having no military solution in sight, in the coming months we should expect the debilitating fighting to continue
Today Ukraine celebrates the 31st anniversary of its independence. The date of celebration symbolically coincided with six months of military conflict with Russia. Many expected Moscow to take advantage of this to stage a provocation or strike a blitz on any section of the front. No doubt, this anniversary will be one of the key anniversaries in the history of the neighboring country, which is going through the culmination of its post-Soviet statehood. Against this background, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv once again urged its citizens to leave the territory of Ukraine, pointing to the threat of missile attacks on the Ukrainian capital. Such warnings from Western embassies after February 24 are particularly alarming. However, the Ukrainian leadership decided not to break its plans and held the second Crimea Platform summit on the eve of the holiday, in which Polish President Andrzej Duda personally arrived in Kyiv to participate. Although it is hard to believe, Russia and Ukraine have been at war with each other for six months. Kyiv manages to keep society highly mobilized, while at the same time tightening the tone of its statements and demands. The latest messages that Ukraine is not going to give up and negotiate anything behind the scenes with the Kremlin are even uncompromising. Moscow itself understands that it cannot radically change the course of the war, but it is trying to give it new shades that would somehow resemble the creeping development of the situation in its favor. The Russian blitzkrieg of February has failed, giving way to a slow war of attrition, which can still be called a struggle of resources and reserves. No one is in a hurry to throw their amassed forces into a decisive battle so as not to suffer defeat and prevent their opponent from switching to an effective (counter)offensive. At the same time, many countries in the West are not interested in a static situation and still expect a more dynamic shift of the front in either direction, in order to have a motive to continue providing military and financial assistance to the Ukrainian authorities. Despite the relative stabilization of the contact lines, the expansion of hostilities risking further escalation occurs almost daily. Increased activity by Ukrainian SRGs on Russian territory and attacks on military facilities in Crimea are all aimed at preventing a “fatigue effect” from Ukraine. Although the decline in aid is still being felt. Ironically, one of the main incentives for Western countries to increase support for Kyiv is not so much the offensive actions of the Ukrainian armed forces but rather the “success” of the Russian army and the occupation of new territories. In this environment, Kyiv has chosen, in fact, a maximalist strategy of dragging Russia even further into the mire of hostilities with an extreme increase in the stakes. The Ukrainian authorities consider it important to extrapolate the next stage of Western sanctions policy to Russian citizens. Hence the visa initiatives to militarize the everyday lives of as many Russian citizens as possible, with the consequent domestic political effects on the Kremlin’s inhabitants. Despite Kyiv's desire to drag Russia into a major war, Moscow is actively resisting attempts to incite it and is working earnestly to move the Ukrainian crisis to the diplomatic level. Apparently, the Kremlin does not want to use its resources unnecessarily, preparing for a cold war against the West rather than for a long confrontation with Ukraine. So far, the main feature of Moscow's foreign policy efforts is its desire to launch negotiations in a format in which the U.S. would be forced out of the Ukrainian settlement process and an alternative group of players, primarily China and Turkiye, would work on the final solution. After six months, one can draw a disappointing conclusion for the Ukrainian authorities: the West and, first of all, the U.S. are not ready to invest in Ukraine's victory, but are waiting “to see who wins”. Apparently, Washington is not that eager to get involved in a broad confrontation with Moscow while it prepares for the rapidly approaching crisis in the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile, the U.S. realizes that any victory for Russia means a further degradation for European security, the collapse of its present architecture, which will lead to centrifugal processes in NATO and the EU. In case of a broad pan-European crisis, a number of countries will obviously begin to distance themselves from the weak centers in Berlin and Paris and will try to establish direct communication with the Kremlin for the sake of their security, including energy. Judging by yesterday’s statements by Western leaders at the Crimea Platform, everyone expects Washington and Brussels to do their best to prevent the existing Euro-Atlantic system from dissolving and to continue depleting Russia’s rear end and Moscow’s resource cushion. However, it seems that the White House has not yet decided what exactly to consider a victory over Russia, what it may look like, and whether this victory will be a prologue to a more serious global aggravation. The next few months are likely to be even more difficult for Ukraine than the previous six months. The turning point of the armed conflict shifts to September-October. First of all, in order to get close to the November elections to the U.S. House of Representatives, where the “Ukrainian card” can greatly influence the disposition in the lower house of Congress. Also in November, the G-20 summit, where Putin and Xi Jinping intend to go, is expected to declare the destruction of the old world order and symbolically open the entry into a new historical era. To recap the six-month confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, it’s difficult to say that this conflict has a military solution. Even if new Ukrainian territories are seized or the occupied regions are liberated, the fighting will not stop. Sadly, no diplomatic solution is in sight yet. No matter how hard some international players try, it has not yet been possible to launch a peace negotiation process. Therefore, in the coming months we should expect a continuation of the debilitating and exhausting fighting, inevitably entailing a decline in living standards and well-being of the population. And only after reaching a certain point of collapse might the Ukrainian and Russian elites decide that it is far more profitable to reach an agreement than to continue the mutually destructive conflict.