Can Either Side Win the War in Ukraine?

There's been a war between essentially the U.S. and Russia in Ukraine for over a decade. Some say even longer. After the unrest and switch of power to West-leaning leaders in 2014, and after the Maiden agreements soon after, and after the takeover of Crimea by Russia, you would have been excused if you thought that the "war" had ended, and a period of stability had set in, if you happened to live in the U.S., where I do. I certainly was under this impression. You would have been excused also if you thought that nothing was going on in Ukraine of any interest to you in any other part of the world during the Covid years. No news is good news, I guess. But as the war turned red hot in February of this year, it started coming out – not in the mainstream press, but in the many alternative voices you can hear on the Internet – that the war had never really even paused. The Maiden agreements – as we now know for sure – were never meant to be implemented, probably by either side. The West had accepted – for the time being – Russia's takeover of Crimea, but they were still determined to keep the rest of Ukraine in the Western fold. The election of Zelenskiy seemed to signal a thaw in relations between the West (read the U.S.) and Russia, but over time, and evidently under a lot of internal and external pressure, Zelenskiy started heating up the war in the eastern parts of the country, which were supposed to be eased into a federal system with much autonomy. With the Covid crisis seemingly over, news started pumping up the idea of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and we started hearing of the unrest in the east of Ukraine that had actually never eased.

I'll admit I was surprised at Russia's invasion, since I've come to be quite cynical of the Western media, and they were talking about false flags, invasions, war, and stuff that just seemed too ridiculous to be true. Surely Putin wouldn't invade Ukraine and risk a nuclear war with the West? Surely the West wouldn't pursue a policy of allowing Russia to invade and then pumping endless arms into Ukraine, along with personnel and advisors, to wage an unwinnable war that was meant to weaken Russia and topple the Putin regime? Surely the West wouldn't toss severe sanctions on individuals in Russia, and try to prevent Russian people and culture from mingling with the world to punish Putin for invading Ukraine, risking energy price rises and instability that could topple Western governments as well? Surely Putin wouldn't fall for this obvious ploy? Surely Western governments, after Trump, would want to go back to the U.S. defending them and keeping their militaries small and local, and keeping Russia a trading partner? Surely the risk of major death and destruction and a huge refugee crisis would tamper the ambitions of both sides?

Well, I guess I was naive, since here we are, almost a year later, and there have been no nuclear exchanges, the war drags on, hundreds of thousands of people have died, Ukraine is a mess, there IS a huge refugee crisis, and there's no end in sight. I hear on the radio, almost daily, that Ukrainians think they can win the war. And I hear occasionally from those alternative sources that Russia is digging in and will eventually win the war.

But what does this idea of winning this war really mean?

If Russia declared victory, let's say a few months from now, having bombed Ukraine into dust and recaptured the eastern part of the country, what then? Surely, NATO countries would not accept this, would not sit at the table to discuss conditions for a settlement, and might not accept it even if Ukraine surrendered, which is also unlikely. And even if a miracle occurred and Ukraine gave up, what then? Could we possibly go back to the way it was before Russia's invasion? I don't think so, because the bad blood seems now to be unresolvable. How would Russia defend their new borders? What happens to the rest of Ukraine? What about the millions of women and children who have left the country? Will Ukraine accede to being neutral? (Highly unlikely.) Too many roadblocks and uncertainties. The most likely scenario would be a return to the tense standoff between a now somewhat smaller Ukraine and Russia and the rest of Europe and the world.

If instead Ukraine, backed by NATO, declared victory, what would the Russians do? Almost certainly not accept the loss, and just keep on carrying on conventional warfare, and threatening nuclear warfare. How would Ukraine defend its borders against almost certain Russian sorties into its territory and Belarussian aggression? What about the refugees? Could they be kept safe back in Ukraine? I just can't believe that Russia will ever accept Ukraine as a NATO country, with arms, perhaps nuclear, pointed at it from right across the border. And Ukraine seems to have become a totally nationalistic state, with no tolerance for any Russian presence in the country.

Either way, it seems impossible to me that this war will end with a victory by either side. Much more likely is a stalemate that results in an armistice like the one that stopped hostilities in Korea in the 1950s, but never ended the war. Or something like the situation in the area including and surrounding Israel, where Israel declared victory in a couple short wars with its neighbors 70 or so years ago, but the situation between Israel and Palestine hasn't been resolved in any reasonable way, and daily skirmishes between Israelis and Palestinians continue to this day. The West's stated objective of weakening and/or toppling the Russian government (read Putin) doesn't seem to me to be any assurance of a cessation of hostilities, or even a government more amenable to the West's demands.

It seems that the West – or at least the neoconservative forces in the West – is hell-bent on expanding their empire to the East, first to Russia and then China. They seem willing to sacrifice millions of people and destroy whole countries to do so. Russia appears boxed in by the West's aggressive behaviors, but as yet has not given up.