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Ukraine: One year of war - who benefits most from the prolongation of the conflict?

February 26, 2023

Published in

Diario de Navarra

Salvador Sánchez Tapia

Professor of International Office of the University of Navarra


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has just turned one year old, making good the forecasts that predicted a long conflict. The trail of war crosses its borders to spread to the rest of the world, especially to Europe, directly affected by the suffering of the thousands of refugees fleeing the war and by the economic damage that the conflict is inflicting on the continent.

Having reached the first anniversary, the end of the confrontation seems distant; the contenders do not seem strong enough - it remains to be seen the real scope of the announced offensives - to break the balance on the front in their favor, and nothing suggests that they can, of their own accord, reach an understanding that, beyond putting an end to hostilities, would satisfy both parties and result in a better peace; Russia, because it will prefer to leave the conflict frozen rather than falsely close an issue that it considers vital; Ukraine because, rightly or wrongly, it considers that it can expel Russia from all the territories occupied since 2014.

Who benefits most from the prolongation of the conflict? It is a question that is not easy to determine. Although worn out, Russia has not yet reached the point of mobilizing all its resources to serve its war aims, while Ukraine continues to be strengthened by the Western bloc financial aid -which remains united despite the difficulties- and is capable of carrying out more complex and farther-reaching operations. If support is maintained, it is conceivable that, in the long run deadline, the economic and industrial capacity of the United States and Europe will eventually prevail.

The problem, however, is precisely that no one can guarantee that this support will continue uninterrupted. There are several reasons for this: a strengthened Ukraine will have less incentive to settle for anything less than total victory, which is a concern in some Western capitals; reinforcement will probably lead to a further prolongation of the war that will continue to damage European economies and force NATO to maintain its current deterrent effort; the risk of Ukraine using its growing capabilities on targets deep inside Russian territory and dragging its suppliers into the war - with all its consequences, including nuclear - increases as the country becomes stronger; finally, unless Western industry adopts production rates close to those of a wartime Economics , the material delivered to Ukraine will have to come from the active inventories of the suppliers, who will see their defense capabilities diminished.

The dilemma for the international community: continue to support Ukraine or force it to accept a cease-fire 

Against this background, the countries that support Ukraine face the dilemma of either maintaining their unconditional support and facing a long war that may not serve their interests, or forcing Kiev to accept a cease-fire that freezes the war sine die, or a negotiated solution that will have to involve imposing some renunciations if Russia is to agree to negotiate.

Ethically considered, the first option, which will prolong the war, has the virtues of not accepting compromises with those who have violated the basic principle of respect for the principle of sovereignty, of eliminating any possibility of appeasement, and of delegitimizing any desire that others might have to promote their interests by means of aggression. Putin, and other potential aggressors, must learn the lesson.

Leaving aside that, for Putin, it was illegitimate to take advantage of Russia's weakness in the 1990s to advance NATO's borders, it is not surprising that on both sides of the Atlantic there are voices on both sides hinting - almost no one says it openly - at the desirability of a negotiated solution.

This vision, more pragmatic - more cynical, if you prefer - admits the imperfection of the world we live in, sacrificing the first solution on the altar of a higher interest which, in this case, would be that of achieving a stable Europe not subject to further pressures from a Russia that would have seen its security needs sufficiently satisfied; it does not matter that this means a tacit recognition of the existence of a Russian sphere of influence that includes Ukraine. This option does not enjoy favor among the countries of Eastern Europe.

No one but Ukraine has to decide on its future, assisted as it is by the right to regain the territory it lost by force. Europe must stand unconditionally with this tormented country, but it must make a careful analysis before deciding whether to accompany Ukraine militarily on that path. The question is complex: Russia cannot win this war, but the world must guard against a victory that sows the seeds of the next one.