In the picture
President Zelensky's participation in the celebration of the National Flag Day of Ukraine on August 23, 2022 [Gov. of Ukraine].
Six months have just passed since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, proving right those who, after the failure of the original Russian plan to achieve a lightning victory over Kiev, foresaw a long conflict whose resolution, at the end of August, seems uncertain and still distant.
On the military level, the war seems to have reached an equilibrium status in which both sides are only able to achieve minor territorial gains that are far from being decisive. Russia is slowly advancing in the control of the Dombas region, but does not seem to be in a position to articulate a broad offensive that would break this balance in its favor and give it the control of Ukrainian territory to which it aspired at the beginning of the war. Ukraine, on the defensive, maintains its positions with difficulty, and presses on the southern front trying to regain control of the city of Kherson, in Russian hands since the beginning of the war, without having so far succeeded in its efforts. In these conditions, and if other elements do not intervene, the conflict may drag on for a long time yet.
Within this 'impasse', and although from some points of view it may be considered disappointing, the financial aid it receives from the West in the form of material, military training and, one may suspect, intelligence from contact and in depth, is allowing Ukraine to conceive and execute increasingly complex and resolute actions such as those it has recently carried out in the Russian rearguard in Crimea or even, if the authorship is confirmed, in Moscow, where a car bomb attack has taken the life of Daria Duguina, daughter of Alexandr Duguin, Vladimir Putin's chief ideologist.
At the strategic level, status of the conflict is having consequences whose real scope cannot yet be glimpsed. While sanctions seem not to have made a dent in the Russian will, the rise in energy prices, largely attributable to the war, is plunging Europe into an increasingly worrying inflationary crisis that may begin to open cracks in the fragile unity forged in support of Ukraine. Disinterest and fatigue are beginning to creep into Western public opinion in the face of a war that does not seem to be resolved and, while formally maintaining its support, many in the West would like to see a cessation of the conflict that normalizes the international status as soon as possible, even if it comes at the cost of Ukrainian territorial losses.
The war is having effects beyond the region in which it is being fought, altering the global balance of power and affecting the strategic calculus of some actors in the international system. Beijing's unusually angry response to Nancy Pelosi's recent visit to Taipei indicates that, regardless of domestic considerations, Beijing sees the balance of power with the United States as shifting in its favor, especially now that Washington's focus is on a war in Europe.
In a scenario such as the current one, negotiation seems the most realistic option, even if it is far from a agreement between the parties. Ukraine is optimistic and does not Withdrawal to regain all the territories currently in Russian hands, which is in line with those who refuse to negotiate peace for territories on the grounds that doing so would legitimize territorial gains through war. Russia, for strategic and reputational reasons, does not seem likely to accept 'motu proprio' the submission of the territories it controls in Ukraine; no one starts a war thinking of ending it in worse conditions than those existing at the beginning.
As things stand, negotiation still seems, therefore, a remote option. Reaching it at the current status of tables probably requires a change in domestic political conditions in Russia and, of course, the impetus of the international community.
If status evolves in Russia's favor, it is plausible to think that Putin, having saved his prestige, will agree to negotiate with a Zelenski under international pressure to accept some territorial losses. If, on the other hand, Ukraine - something that seems unlikely at this point - were able to seize the initiative from the Russians and carry out a broad offensive, the United States - and, in general, the West - would be forced to decide how far it accepts to push Zelenski's advance, realizing that any attempt to dislodge Russia from Crimea or the Dombas could serve Putin to justify an escalation to the nuclear field. In this scenario, too, negotiation would break through as the preferable option.
One of the most difficult questions in any war is to determine the meaning of the term "victory". Whatever meaning is given to it, it is essential to undertake efforts to achieve it with the idea of making it serve, as Liddell Hart said, as an instrument to achieve a better peace, not as the seed of a new conflict.
[This article was first published in the 'Diario de Navarra'].