Up until now, the idea that anything less than Moscow’s total military defeat would be acceptable was effectively a taboo. Those, like French President Emmanuel Macron, who have called for Vladimir Putin to be given an ‘off-ramp,’ enabling him to save face with some kind of propaganda victory, have been slammed for carving up a nation that is doing everything to defend itself.
The atlanticists agree. According to one influential US think tank, The Atlantic Council, a negotiated settlement would be “appeasement” of a hostile power, while Anne Applebaum wrote over the weekend that “the war won’t end until Putin loses.”
But despite the tough talk, it is becoming increasingly clear that neither side has the capability to vanquish the other — and the prospect of a long, bloody deadlock is looming large.
And yet, it’s impossible to see what kind of deal Zelenskyy and Putin could do to end the carnage. Having scored major wins on the battlefield, most Ukrainians believe the tide has already turned in their favour and they now want to see justice done. To suddenly give up territory in return for peace would turn Kyiv’s president overnight from popular figurehead to pariah. …
Meanwhile, on the other side, even though Russian television propagandists like Vladimir Solovyov have admitted to “shameful” errors during the “special military operation,” they tell their viewers that the slow progress is only to minimise unnecessary civilian casualties. As Putin himself said in a speech earlier this month, “as in 1945, victory will be ours.”
Locked into that kind of rhetoric, the Kremlin has too much at stake to walk away empty handed, and recognition of its claims to sovereignty over Crimea and independence for the breakaway Donbas region are likely to be the minimum it could settle for.
Stalemate like since 2014 is likely:
In the years since 2014, Ukraine has struggled to take back any of the territory occupied by Russian and Russian-backed forces in the Donbas, while Moscow and its proxies have been unable to push further into the region. The result was a bitter trench war that took its toll on people on both sides of the front line.
Now, despite tens of thousands of lives lost, all Putin has achieved is moving that front line a little further to the West, and the region seems set for the same kind of standoff it has seen for the past eight years, only on a larger scale.
It is a well-known maxim that an attacking force needs at least three times the military strength of the defender to prevail.
Russia invaded with 180,000 troops, less than three times the 100,000 Ukrainian troops. But the Russians figured they had more than three times the Ukrainian military strength, due to expected air superiority and their far better and numerous armored vehicles. Besides, Putin thought he had bribed all the right people and it would all be over in three weeks.
But motivation and skill (or lack of it, on the Russian side) intervened, and the Ukrainians held out. Now Ukrainian combat power is climbing fast, due to weapons from NATO and because of masses of Ukrainian men getting trained up. By August, the Ukrainian Army could have swelled to 750,000 — enough to have a three to one advantage over the Russians, enough to boot them out.
The Russians are having great difficulty replacing their lost or destroyed equipment, because of sanctions and because they aren’t wealthy enough. So the Russians are going to need to find a lot more men to avoid defeat. Huge quantities of soldiers is the one thing Russia has historically been good at — but demographics have changed, and they might have difficulty this time.
The WW1 combatants thought it would be over by Christmas 1914. (My grandad signed up with the Australian Army immediately war broke out in August 1914, because he didn’t want to miss out on a free trip to Europe, fearing the war might end too soon. He finally returned in early 1919, having survived Gallipoli and several years on the Western front, wounded twice and lost half his hearing but otherwise ok.)
UPDATE: To emphasize the role of numbers in war, check out this astounding video of army sizes in WWII on a daily basis. Remember that the Russians lost 25m men in the war, far more than anyone else, so their attrition rate was atrocious.