Second, Russia’s negotiating stance does not allow for a peaceful compromise. Russia’s ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude is reflected in the list of demands by Russia: official recognition of Crimea as Russian, recognition of the fake republics in Luhansk and Donetsk, no reparations payments, and neutral status and demilitarisation for Ukraine. This could also include the seizure of territories currently under Russian control. It is not the first time Russia has engaged in diplomacy without compromise. Russia’s ultimatum over security guarantees to the West in December 2021 was as unacceptable to the West as the Kremlin’s demands to Ukraine are today.
Finally, the performance of Russia and Ukraine’s armies also shapes this agreement to war. Reports indicate that the performance of the Ukrainian military has been strong and that it has preserved command and other capabilities. That is because the Ukrainian army has chosen a defence strategy that prioritises the capability of the military over territorial control. There is no front line in Ukraine. Rather, the Ukrainian military lures Russian troops deeper into the country only to repeatedly counter-attack from more advantageous positions. In effect, this means that a scenario whereby the Ukrainian military is fully incapacitated by the Kremlin is unlikely.
On the other side, the Kremlin failed to achieve its initial goals and has doubled down on bringing all possible manpower to the table, reorganising the army attempting to occupy Ukraine. When analysing the state of this war, analysts have to make assumptions – the most feasible is that Putin shows no intention of backing down. At the same time, the Kremlin is experiencing heavy losses and has had major supply issues.
If Russia wishes to continue hostilities and Ukraine preserves its military capability, a prolonged and ugly war where both armies remain at least partially operational and civilians suffer significantly is highly likely.
For this scenario to become prolonged, the most important variable to watch out for is the capability of the Ukrainian military, rather than territory that has been ceded to Russian control, and the active supply of weapons to Ukraine. As for Russia, if it chooses to continue the pressure and fall into the trap of sunk costs – i.e. that its ‘investment’ in the war has to be repaid – the agreement to war will be further cemented.
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