Earlier I wrote about Putin and the Russians because I couldn’t understand what was going on.
The follow-up question is now: how does this war end?
Eventually a war will end. All wars in history did. But it also always takes longer than expected because a war is easier to start than to finish is a quote I picked up from this article in De Groene Amsterdammer.
Many wars have no clear ending. The conflict is just frozen. Which is a likely scenario in the case of the war that Russia started with Ukraine. A new leader in Russia is most likely the first chance for this war to end.
Then what? How can such a leader get away with justifying so many casualties on the Russian side? Just blame the previous leader? That can only come together with a fundamental, revolutionary upheavel of the entire system and culture, the entire government because everyone was complicit. Something like Navalny taking over and during the take-over completely restructering the entire country. Unlikely, because the federation would have desintegrated before that. Also unlikely because Putin has a vast majority of his citizens under his spell. In other words, it would require one big mess, possibly a civil war. I guess this is also the scenario Western leaders are hoping for. Let the Russian Federation implode, that will do it.
On the other hand, that country can just endlessly carry on with the war. More soldiers, more weaponry and ammunition. They might even become more successful along the way. That course would make the most sense for both Putin and his citizens, it would be consistent for them.
Ukraine can not do anything but fight back. To avoid the loss of troops it will just be more defensive than it already is. With the help of more weaponry from the West it will probably become more effective in intercepting attacks on its citizens (cities, infrastructure). The West has an industry that has an interest in having a war to fight. It is good for business. Taxpayers together can afford it, a war is often good for the economy. And because this threat from Russia in whatever state will not go away anytime soon the industry can expect a continuous turnover. This war is good for business. The part of Ukraine where the fighting is going on will then become a deserted wasteland to test out weapons (for the West) and to slaughter more soldiers (for Russia).
A defeat for Russia without any change in leadership would be existentially confrontational for Putin. To avoid at all cost. How can you make it look less like a defeat? Promise that Ukraine won’t be member of EU and NATO? Perhaps if it has a time limit, like not the next 10 years. It won’t make Russia beloved by Ukraine. Not for the next few generations. Only if Russia itself changes fundamentally. Like tear it apart for starters. The last thing that Putin and his clan wants.
Even if the West, China, India and other countries are teaming up to isolate Russia with sanctions, put diplomatic pressure and so on, it can just continue. Some will flee the country, many will be jailed, but it won’t stop the regime. After all, Russia has already invested so many human lives in the war. Also, the regime has a complete disregard for the suffering of its own citizens. They can just die, no problem. There is no justice in the country anyway. For Ukraine it is easy to stop the war, the minute the borders of 1991 are restored. And then build a big wall with Russia as border, I assume.
What Putin wants is what he can not get. Putin feels threatened by the West and wants certainty that the West will back off. The West wants Putin to first stop the war with Ukraine. The West can not negotiate on behalf of Ukraine while they are in a war, it can not negotiate with Putin directly (Macron tried). Putin thinks he is fighting the West, while the West has absolute respect for the sovereignty of states because it is founded on it. Putin does not seem to understand that concept at all. See how Russia deals with neighbours. There is not the slightest sign that it respects sovereignty. Just like it has no respect for the lives of individuals. It is the terrorist state that Zelinsky often calls it.
Then there is a call by a group of intellectuals in the Netherlands that argue in favour of negotiating with Russia. Because wars that do not end with a clear victory on either side need a diplomatic negotiation is what they argue. Statistically this is not the case according to the article I started with.
But how can the EU, the US or what else negotiate about someone else its territory? It can not. Even if Russia gets written promises that Ukraine wil never get access to NATO, the EU, and such and suppose that Russia retreats (that would be weird). Partially or completely. This does not guarantee peace because Russia can decide to just start fighting again if Ukraine becomes too Western or whatever ‘feeling’ it has about how Russia is mistreated. It is obvious that Ukraine does not want to belong to Russia or its sphere of influence. The West can not do anything else but respect that, because it is existential for all countries in the West to respect the sovereignty of a nation (not for Russia and it’s federation obviously).
In The Standaard there is another, pragmatic plea to negotiate and sacrifice the territory Russia currently holds. Because this war can’t be won. The West has not been empathetic for Russia “both Napoleon and Hitler stood at the gates of Moscow”, to not have been recognised as a regional power. In a reaction someone from political science stresses that The West has tried all kinds of things to integrate Russia in the West: Council of Europe, G8, the WHO. The expansion of NATO and the EU was not at the initiative of its members but because the countries from Central and East Europe wanted it very much, running away from Russia. No anti-Russian agenda there. There is even a sentiment to keep the new members at arms length because of incompatibilities with West Europe.
Overlooking all this I see this drag on for years with some messy unforseen outcome. Actually, a quick victory for Ukraine might not be the way to defeat Russia. Without a revolutionary regime change Russia might be coming back. With a bit more patience the Russian federation and its republics should better desintegrate first.