DG MARTIN COLUMN: How the war will end

We don’t know how the war in Ukraine will end, but some day and somehow there will be some kind of conclusion.

What then?

What seems most likely now is that the war will become a war of attrition with both sides digging trenches, holding on defensively and neither able to make significant gains. The war could go on for many years without a definite conclusion, with neither Russia nor Ukraine being willing to call an end to the fighting.

However, writes Rand Corporation commentator Brian Michael Jenkins, “The battles come closer to the kind of trench warfare seen in World War I — a situation that favors the Russians who, because of larger numbers, are more able and apparently willing to accept high casualties for limited gains. However, some military observers believe the losses on both sides will be unsustainable, and that 2023 will be the decisive year.”

Another possibility is that Russia’s nightly attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure will finally undermine the country’s will to continue the fight. But the example of Britain’s holding out during Germany’s nightly bombing blitz shows that such damaging tactics do not necessarily break the will of the victim nation.

But if the U.S. and NATO nations, for some reason, reduce support, the Ukrainian efforts might be undermined which could lead to Russia prevailing.

However, as Jenkins points out, “Regardless, any of these would be, for the Russians, a pyrrhic victory. While Russia could occupy Ukraine, it may never be able to pacify the Ukrainians. A highly motivated underground resistance could continue for years.”

What about a negotiated settlement? Maybe someday, but the parties are so far apart, it seems unlikely. In March 2022, Putin set out conditions for ending the war: Ukraine would have to be a neutral country and not join NATO. It would recognize the independence of the Russian-backed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and recognize Crimea as Russian. It would, according to Jenkins, “have to demilitarize and surrender any weapons that constituted a threat to Russia; Ukraine would have to be ‘de-Nazified,’ meaning a change of regime to one acceptable to Russia; and Russian would have to become an official second language in Ukraine.”

These are not acceptable by Ukraine, even as a starting point.
Ukraine conditions for peace are similarly unacceptable to Russia. These include, according to Jenkins, “an end to hostilities and withdrawal of Russian forces; the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity; Russian withdrawal from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant; an end to Russian interference with Ukraine’s food exports; the return of all POWs and civilians, including children, who have been forcibly deported to Russia; and the creation of a special tribunal to assess reparations owed to Ukraine. Kyiv has also stated that Russian war criminals must be punished, that sanctions on Russia should continue, and that Russia must be punished for its invasion by stripping it of its seat (and thus veto power) on the United Nations Security Council.”

What about a coup to overthrow Vladimir Putin? The short rebellion of the Wagner forces raised the hopes of coup plotters, but Jenkins says it seems “improbable. Nikita Khrushchev was the only Soviet leader to have been removed from power, and that occurred because there were other powerful actors in the Kremlin. Today, there is no similar politburo, indeed no functioning government institutions that might challenge Putin’s rule.”

Whatever the end game for this war, the Atlantic community and the Western world will miss the benefits of the great contributions Russia could make if it were a part of that community. The country has great potential in intellectual firepower, industrial strength, and artistic talents. Sadly, it appears that these potentials seem destined to be wasted.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.”