How Does the Russian-Ukraine War End?
Robert A. Levine
There are many different possible scenarios about how the Russian-Ukrainian war might end. The main factor standing in the way of a settlement is the fact that Putin cannot lose face, unless he dies or is deposed, both of which seem unlikely. Thus far, Russian troops have performed abominably, being unable to conquer Kviv or any major city aside from Kherson. They have succeeded in destroying Ukrainian infrastructure and residences in many cities and are guilty of committing horrendous war crimes which Russian propaganda has been unable to keep hidden from the rest of the world. Aside from other autocratic nations, the world seems to be fairly solidly opposed to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the damage they have wrought and the innocent civilians including children that they have killed.
The fact is, however, that Putin doesn’t give a damn about his or Russia’s reputation. He just wants to end this” special operation” with what he can label a victory for his military and the Russian people. Unless this new focus on the Donbas region by the Russian military rewards Putin with some significant territorial gains, Putin is going to have difficulty claiming victory despite the loss of Russian lives and military equipment. A revolt against Putin or his assassination by his military or FSB personnel would probably end the war, but appears very unlikely. His control of the Russian propaganda machine and the media have heightened his approval ratings among the Russian public who have supported his actions against the ”Nazi” regime in Ukraine.
Putin stepping down from his position as president voluntarily is also improbable. If there is a stalemate in the conflict, it is hard to imagine Putin allowing the special operation to continue for years, draining the Russian treasury of what little it has, and losing more Russian manpower. Another consideration if for Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons to try and end the war, either bombing a Ukrainian city or a relatively uninhabited area as a warning to Zelinsky and the Ukrainian government. Of course, that would earn Putin even more approbation from the nations of the world, perhaps even from China.
Another way this war could be ended would be by a major power or an ally of Russia stepping in and suggesting negotiations, either at this point before the battle for the Donbas begins or if a stalemate is reached. The United States would be unable to suggest that since Putin has branded the U.S. and the West as the real participants in the current conflict. China and Xi would be the perfect interlocutors as they are seen as allies of Russia and a world power. They could make it seem as if Russia has been winning by destroying Ukrainian cities and Xi wants to end the bloodshed and destruction. This would certainly make China be perceived positively in the world’s eyes and would be a great triumph for Chairman Xi, particularly with Chinese Communist Party elections on the horizon. The question is whether Xi is farsighted enough to realize the benefits that would accrue to him and to China. At the moment, the CCP is spouting Putin’s lies and at least giving him political support.
Orban of Hungary and Erdogan of Turkey could also try to intercede but do not appear weighty enough to influence Russia. If no leader is able to intercede, one can see this war dragging on and on, since Putin seems to have no regard for the lives of Russian soldiers or Ukrainian civilians. Putin just wants to save face at this point and be able to claim a victory of some sort for a “special operation” that he never should have started in the first place.
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