WASHINGTON (AP) — An endless and unwinnable war in Europe? That’s what NATO leaders fear and brace for as the Russian war in Ukraine enters its third month with little sign of a decisive military victory for both sides and no resolution in sight.
The possibility of a stalemate is fueling concerns that Ukraine could remain a deadly European battlefield and a source of continental and global instability for months or even years.
Energy and food security are the most immediate concerns, but massive Western support for Ukraine, as the world continues to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and struggles to cope with the effects of climate change, could take its toll on the global economy. And if Russia chooses to escalate, the risk of wider conflict increases.
The US and its allies are pumping a steady stream of deadly weapons into Ukraine to keep it in the fray. While most analysts say Kiev is at least holding up, those infusions must continue if they are to support President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s vow to win, or at least match or retaliate, Moscow’s advance.
Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no willingness to intensify the invasion with either a general mobilization of troops or the use of unconventional weapons, he has also shown no signs of withdrawal. Nor has Zelenskyy, who now claims that Ukraine will not only repel the current Russian invasion, but will also regain control of Crimea and other areas Russia has occupied or otherwise controlled since 2014.
“It’s very hard to see how you could get a negotiated solution at this point,” said Ian Kelly, a retired veteran diplomat who served as US ambassador to Georgia, another former Soviet republic on which Russia has territorial designs.
“It is out of the question that Ukraine will step back,” Kelly said. “They think they are going to win.”
At the same time, Kelly said that no matter how many miscalculations Putin has made about Ukraine’s strength and will to resist or the unity and determination of NATO allies, Putin cannot accept defeat or anything less than a scenario that he can argue would be successful. achieved.
“It would be political suicide if Putin pulled out,” Kelly said. “It’s very hard to see how you could get a negotiated solution at this point. Neither side is willing to stop fighting and probably the most likely outcome is a war lasting a few years. Ukraine would be a festering sore in the middle of Europe.”
US officials, starting with President Joe Biden, appear to agree, even after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin raised eyebrows by saying after a visit to Kiev last month that Washington’s intent is not just to help Ukraine. defend itself, but also to “weaken” Russia to the point. where it poses no threat.
Putin “has no way out at the moment, and I’m trying to figure out what we can do about that,” Biden said Monday, even after signing legislation intended to restart the World War II “lend lease” . program and called on Congress to approve a $40 billion package in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
So what to do? French President Emmanuel Macron has placed a bounty on a negotiated settlement that will save the face of both Russia and Ukraine.
“We will have a peace tomorrow to build on, let’s never forget that,” Macron said on Monday. “We will have to do this with Ukraine and Russia around the table. The end of the discussion and negotiations will be decided by Ukraine and Russia. But it will not be done in denial, nor in exclusion of one another, not even in humiliation.”
US officials are not so sure, although they admit the endgame is Ukraine’s.
“Our strategy is to ensure Ukraine comes out of this victory,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said this week. “Ukraine will do that at the negotiating table. Our aim is to strengthen Ukraine’s position at that negotiating table, while continuing to impose ever-increasing costs on the Russian Federation.”
But the great uncertainty about what constitutes a “victorious” Ukraine has alarmed officials in some European capitals, particularly those in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are NATO members bordering Russia and are particularly concerned about the possible future intentions of Moscow.
For the Baltic states and other countries on NATO’s eastern flank, the threat is real and memories of the occupation and Soviet rule remain fresh. Concessions to Russia in Ukraine will only encourage Putin to move further west, they say.
“Honestly, we’re still not talking about the endgame,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis complained in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. He said any territorial concessions in Ukraine would usher in a world in which the “rules-based order” has been replaced by a “rule-based order based on the jungle”.
Landsbergis suggested that Western countries make public statements about what success would be. “What would we think about what we would take for the win, the actual victory? What would be the scenario we would like?”
Landsbergis has been outspoken in his calls to oust Putin as Russia’s leader, which goes well beyond the position of the US and other NATO leaders. He says regime change in Moscow is the only way to protect European and Western security in the long term.
“For my part, it’s much easier to say that we need regime change in Russia, so we’ve been quite blunt and open about it,” he said. “Maybe it’s much harder for the United States to be open about it, but still, at some point we have to talk about it because it’s so important.”