The opening phase is over. The invaders’ initial assault has run out of momentum, and the defenders have rallied their people – both at home and around the world – to their side.
Now we’re in the next phase, where the combat becomes a long, dirty, and ugly slog.
And it’s not going to get better for some time.
This is pretty much a European war. Ukraine wants to be part of Europe; Putin wants them to be part of Russia instead. There’s no reason to escalate this to a global conflict. The US can contribute material and lead the way in sanctioning Russia and levying all manner of economic penalties – but they cannot and should not send troops. European nations can do what they want.
What happens next depends primarily on how much more Putin is willing to throw into the fighting. From what we’ve seen so far, Russian forces are poorly led and poorly equipped. It’s possible Putin thought it would be a cakewalk to Kyiv, so he didn’t see any need to commit first-rate troops. If there are better forces in reserve, it doesn’t bode well for Ukraine and things could be over quickly. But if what we’ve seen is typical (and there’s little reason to doubt it), the war could go on for a long time. Historically, a key military asset for Russia has always been their willingness to throw more and more troops at the enemy in the hopes of outlasting them in a war of attrition. It’s cruel, yes, but that’s been a big part of their strategy.
If Ukraine becomes a meat grinder that chews up Russians, the key factors in the war will be how long the Ukrainians will be able to hold out against the constant fighting, and how long the people of Russia will be willing to stand seeing their forces wasted in a petty little war.
In that case, the “loser” will be whichever side gives up first.
Looking forward to the end stages, I see a number of possible outcomes:
1. The Ukraine government collapses; the country becomes a Russian puppet. The worst outcome, all things considered. But not likely, given the international support at their back.
2. The “front” stagnates, leaving Russia in control of some border areas. These would probably be annexed to Russia, leaving a smaller but still independent and free Ukraine. Similar to what happened to Finland after WWII.
3. In a negotiated settlement, Russia keeps some of the “disputed” border territories. Basically the status quo ante. Perhaps some reparations will be involved.
4. Ukraine kicks Russia out and recovers all their territory – including the Crimea. While this is the most desirable outcome, I don’t really see it happening.
The wild card in all of this is how long the Russian people will allow Putin to stay in power. If enough of the right people get fed up with the rising body count and the collapsing economy, he might be “persuaded” to call it a day….
In any case, we’re at the “end” of the “beginning”. Now things get really serious.