We are over a month into a war many intelligence agencies estimated would be over in a week. The myth of the mighty Russian military lies smouldering on roads around Ukrainian cities. The Kremlin appears to have blundered itself into the quagmire we warned of in January’s Flashpoints. It is a highly fluid situation and thus poorly placed for one-and-done predictions, but it is possible to at least start thinking about possible endgames to this conflict in the broadest scenario terms.
As things stand, the chances of an outright military victory for either side in the short-term remain slim. There is little chance of Ukrainian forces rolling the Russians back, yet the announcement that Russian troops will now concentrate in the Donbas is likely an admission that Russia can’t find an incisive, conflict-ending offensive either. Ukrainians have fortified Kyiv and shown that they are willing to fight street by street, while the siege of Mariupol indicates that the Kremlin is unconcerned about seizing cities intact. The potential for a grinding war dragging on through the next quarter looms large in any outlook.
Peace talks offer the main off-ramp, but Mykhailo Podolyak of the Ukrainian negotiating team has said that reaching an agreement could take months. Breakthroughs can come quickly with all negotiations, but it will be tough to find robust security guarantees for Kyiv and territorial concessions that are acceptable to both sides. . This could end, of course, with a Russian withdrawal, something that would likely either accompany or precipitate the collapse of Vladmir Putin’s government. Authoritarian regimes can be brittle, snapping under pressure with little visible warning. Yet it would be unwise to rely on this deus ex machina to bring a close to the brutal warfare.
Hopes of a swift conclusion are not entirely lost, nor is the world helpless. Sanctions are hurting, and military aid has helped Ukraine to fight back. A breakthrough in talks could come at any time. Yet most analysts assess that the war is far from over. Sadly, that is a scenario that presages much more pain ahead.
This article first appeared in the Axco Flashpoints newsletter, which provides monthly analysis on country risk and geopolitics from our Global Risk team. You can sign up at https://www.axcoinfo.com/axco-flashpoints-signup.aspx
It is a highly fluid situation and thus poorly placed for one-and-done predictions, but it is possible to at least start thinking about possible endgames to this conflict in the broadest scenario terms.