The stalemate in Ukraine won’t last forever

The stalemate in Ukraine won’t last forever. By Mark Geleoitti. Pain all round, so far:

Today, Ukraine can rightly feel pride at its achievements, but the costs are hard to overstate. It is on a full wartime footing, with men between the ages of 18 and 60 banned from leaving as they are needed for the struggle. Its economy is on life support and is only kept afloat by foreign assistance. This year could see its GDP shrink by as much as half.

It has lost substantial swathes of territory, and while it is holding the Russians at bay, not least thanks to extensive western military aid, it has not yet been able to launch a much-heralded counter-attack to retake the city of Kherson or other lands in the south.

Not that Russia has any reason to feel confident. It lost many of its best troops and most advanced kit in its blundered initial attack, and is even having to recruit convicts from prison and arm them with 1960s-vintage equipment dragged out of dusty stockpiles.

On the battlefield, Russia appears to have stalled and the prospects of it being able to mount another major offensive this year look slim. The territories it has taken are devastated and their people are increasingly turning to acts of resistance, from passing on information about Russian troop movements to assassinating quisling local leaders.

At home, its economy is surviving but at the cost of progressive retrenchment. Although GDP is set to fall by only 4 to 5 per cent, this masks the serious damage being done already to sectors depending on foreign components or markets and the long-term scarring.

Stalemate??

This, then, is where we are, six months on. It looks like a miserable stalemate, with tens of thousands dead and everyone’s economy suffering.

Yet no stalemate lasts forever. One would be foolish to consider Russia a spent force. Putin is clearly hoping to outlast Ukraine’s capacity to resist or the West’s willingness to underwrite it. Were there some unexpected collapse in Kyiv’s defences, he might well revisit his more ambitious dreams of conquest.

At the same time, Ukraine has demonstrated a striking capacity to adapt and innovate. Unable or unwilling to roll into a heavily-defended Kherson, they have instead begun degrading Russian capabilities by pecking away at their supply lines, communications hubs and headquarters. They may be unable to match the Russians in sheer scale, especially if Putin opts for a full mobilisation, but wars are not always determined by numbers alone. One would be foolish to rule out a Ukrainian surprise.

The weakest link? That’s us: the West. … The answer is not more or different sanctions so much as strategic patience and a determination to pay the price of economic war.

Wars end when one side or the other loses the will to fight (or, as keeps happening in the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian wars, an outside force intervenes to end the war before it finishes).