When will the Ukraine war end? Depends who you ask

Ukraine is being upgraded, Russia is threatening World War III – the escalation spiral continues. The West is bracing itself for a protracted conflict.

Is there such a thing as certainty in wartime? At least there are all sorts of forecasts. Sometimes they prove resilient like the precise prediction of the USA about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sometimes as inaccurate, like the assumption Kyiv could fall in a surprise attack.

So far, one prognosis has always led to nothing: How long will the Russian campaign last? Several events on Tuesday provided at least clues that do not bode well. And one thing: the war is obviously entering a new phase.

At a crisis conference at the US military base in Ramstein, allies of NATO and beyond agreed to join forces militarily to help Ukraine fight the Russian invaders. Or in other words: Ukraine is being rearmed on a large scale. Germany will also support the delivery of heavy weapons from other countries – and will now deliver them itself.

The meeting was flanked by threatening gestures by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Even before the consultations in the Palatinate, he sent a clear warning to the western alliance: “The danger is serious, real,” he said in an interview with state television. “We should not allow World War III.” Lavrov accused NATO of waging a proxy war against Russia and stressed that Russian troops in Ukraine see Western weapons as a “legitimate target”.

In the evening, Russia announced that it would stop gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, apparently with the aim of driving a wedge in the previously closed European Union – other member states, including Germany, continue to get gas from Russia (Read more about it here).

In short: the conflict has reached a new level of escalation.

“We have to steel ourselves for a long fight”

So how long will the war last? Even on the 63rd day, an answer proves to be difficult. The decision to end the invasion seems to be made solely in the mind of Russian President Vladimir Putin – a place that here as delusional and there as rapt is described, and so far seems to refuse all attempts at mapping and crisis diplomacy.

In any case, the western alliance is preparing for a long-lasting conflict.

As early as the end of March, US President Joe Biden did not want to give the world any illusions. “We have to be clear about this: This battle will not be fought in days or in months. We have to steel ourselves for a long fight,” said Biden during a speech in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw and evoked the unity of the West in a “battle between democracy and autocracy.”

The meeting in Ramstein was also under this impression. The West is preparing to help Ukraine “in the long term” said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, “and build the defense for tomorrow’s challenges.” Austin therefore wants to consolidate the international dialogue on arms deliveries and the strengthening of the Ukrainian army: from now on, the Tuesday round will meet every month. As a result, no one involved is assuming that the conflict will end any time soon.

Robert Habeck has repeatedly said that it takes staying power. The Federal Economics and Climate Protection Minister must lead the country to energy independence from Russia – without endangering German prosperity. A backbreaking job.

Unusually open for a top politician, Habeck gives an insight into the many dilemmas that currently characterize his job. One of these dilemmas: Any sanctions against Russia must be designed in such a way that Germany can “stand” them for two or three years, how he puts it. This is the time horizon with which Habeck works. Against this background, at least one oil embargo for Germany has now become “manageable,” as he surprisingly announced in Warsaw on Monday.

Where do Putin’s tanks stop?

The situation changes almost daily, as does the speed of the war and with it the question of how to react to current developments. Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president, is nonetheless certain: “We have to be prepared for a long story.”

In his estimation, the Russian war of aggression could drag on for many months, as he said in a YouTube interview, according to the Ukrainian news agency Unian. According to Arestovych, the weapons newly received from his country could have “serious effects” on the fighting in late May or early June. The war itself could last until the end of the year.

In any case, Russia’s President Putin does not give the impression of wanting to stop the “special operation” – as the war in Russia has to be called – for the foreseeable future. The Kremlin ruler has the fighting brutalized and the offensive in eastern Ukraine intensified, apparently in an effort to symbolically charged “Day of Victory” to be able to announce a (partial) military success on May 9th.

And then?

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Moscow’s goals go far beyond Ukraine. “The ultimate goal of the Russian leadership is not only the conquest of Ukraine, but the destruction of the entire center and eastern Europe,” said Zelenskyj in his nightly video message, which was published on Telegram on Wednesday night. A “global strike against democracy” is also part of the goal.

The Ukrainian military recently warned against the activation of Russian troops in the breakaway republic of Transnistria in Moldova. Transnistria has been de facto ruled by a pro-Russian regime since the 1990s. In the Republic of Moldova, located between Ukraine and Romania, it is therefore feared that after a possible victory for the Russian invaders in the neighboring country, the Kremlin could also allow its army to invade their country.

The search for an exit

So how to bring about a possible end to the war and prevent further bloodshed? Even the most self-confident Putin apologists have a hard time answering this question. Alone: ​​Russia does not shy away from war crimes in order to still achieve its goals. Observers have therefore been brooding over possible exit scenarios for weeks that could point the way out of the spiral of escalation.

The conflict researcher Andreas Heinemann-Grüder from the University of Bonn currently considers the scenario of “mutual depletion” to be the most likely. “At some point there will be this Verdun moment when both sides realize that they can no longer make any meaningful gains in territory,” he said “Mirror”.

“Both sides are not at that point yet, it’s a matter of time.” It’s hard to predict when the time will come, “but in two months the Russians will probably be slowed down economically as a result of the sanctions,” said Heinemann-Grüder. “Militarily, the war crimes in Bucha or Mariupol are also an expression of the fact that the original war goal cannot be achieved.”

So could Putin back down? At the very least, the British prime minister said the Russian president had “political leeway” to end his invasion face-saving. This is due to “massive Russian support for his actions and the apparent forgetfulness of the Russian media,” as he told TalkTV on Tuesday. Putin could tell the Russian people that the operation launched in Ukraine was “completed” and “technically a success” – even if this might not correspond to the facts.

It is now accepted as a fact among military experts that Putin expected a lightning victory from his war of aggression and miscalculated it. The Ukrainian military and people have shown unexpected resilience. Several NATO and EU countries are sending weapons and money to Ukraine in support, have imposed unprecedented economic and financial sanctions on the aggressor – and are preparing more.

And there is no end in sight: “We don’t know how the rest of the war will go,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday morning after a visit to Kyiv. “But we know that a sovereign and independent Ukraine will exist much longer than Vladimir Putin has been on this stage.” Support for Ukraine will continue. “It will continue until we see ultimate success.”

The US is apparently pursuing a much longer-term strategy that could go beyond the war in Ukraine: “We want Russia to be weakened to the point where it’s no longer capable of something like invading Ukraine.” , like blinking.

The message between the lines: the battle against Russia is far from over.

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