Will the Russian army ever leave Ukraine?
This is the objective of final victory held by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It would mean Russia and Ukraine would agree to the restoration of borders in effect in 1991 and were recognized by the international community after the Cold War. That would also require Russia to leave Crimea. The United States generally supports this scenario of what would happen after total Russian capitulation.
But obviously, Vladimir Putin would never agree to this outcome. The only way Russia would completely surrender is with regime change that would depose Putin and hasten an end to the fighting – similar to the situation that followed the Russian revolution of 1917 and subsequent surrender to the Central Powers in 1918 to end Russian involvement in World War One.
Ukraine: Does This Mean the Conflict Will Be Frozen?
Ukrainian political and military leadership has bristled at any mention of stopping the current fight and negotiating with Putin. The United States has resisted any American-led efforts at a cease fire or some kind of armistice. Kyiv and Washington believe that the Ukrainian military has seized the initiative and can push the Russian military out of the territory it currently holds. This will be difficult as Putin has mobilized around 300,000 reservists that could keep Russia in the war past the winter. This would mean the fighting could become a frozen conflict if it lasts beyond the 12-month mark.
Set Up a Demilitarized Zone
A frozen conflict could mean both sides could someday agree to a demilitarized zone with no peace treaty, similar to the situation between North Korea and South Korea. That arrangement is overseen by the United Nations, but with Russia having veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council, the United Nations would be an unlikely mediator for any kind of peaceful agreements.
No Ceasefire Until Russia Capitulates
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov does not believe the situation in Ukraine will become a frozen conflict. He said in August that the current fight is not a “conflict” but a “war” and in warfare the victor would have complete control over Ukraine and not agree to a ceasefire in a situation with the borders of 2014 intact and Russia still owning Crimea.
No Justice No Peace
Reznikov believes the situation is simple. Russia invaded for no reason. It has delivered terroristic actions against civilians. It has besieged the country and it has refused to surrender. This means that Ukraine has every right to defend itself indefinitely without any form of peace talks.
Putin Would Not Agree to Reparations
Ukraine has also discussed reparations or the act of Moscow paying Kyiv for the damage and destruction Russia have caused since the invasion. This again would have to be negotiated in a peace agreement that would be similar to the Treaty of Versailles that would completely punish Russia for its transgressions. Again, this is not possible with Vladimir Putin in charge.
Try Russians as War Criminals
Ukraine would also want Russian generals and policymakers including Putin to be tried as war criminals similar to what happened after the Balkan wars in the 1990s. This is also a state of affairs that the Kremlin would never agree to. With Putin in office as supreme leader, this would be nothing more than a dream by Ukraine.
Ukraine Believes Americans Should Not Agitate for Peace
The U.S. stance from the Biden administration as described by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is that the Americans will refrain from telling the Ukrainians what to do or infringe on their definition of victory. This would entail American support for the three item wish list: returning to the 1991 borders, requiring Russia to pay reparations, and prosecuting Russian leaders in a war tribunal. Sullivan said in September that the Americans will support the democratically-elected government of Ukraine to reach its objectives and not create an environment in which Washington would dictate terms to Kyiv.
Fighting Continues Into 2023
This means that no peace negotiations are forthcoming in 2022 and the fighting is likely to continue into 2023 without the Russian military being ejected from the country. This will be a long war with no cessation of hostilities in the coming months. Putin has shown he will mobilize and ask for weapons and ammunition from Iran and North Korea to continue attacking civilian targets to deny electricity and water services. The West must realize that it will have to continue to bankroll the war deep into 2023. Both sides are digging in, and a stalemate is possible in which Ukraine and Russia are at each other’s throats indefinitely unless Putin is overthrown or dies. Until then, Ukraine will not achieve its three main objectives, and the war will not end soon.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.