WASHINGTON (AP) — An endless, unwinnable war in Europe? This is what NATO leaders fear and prepare for as Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its third month with few signs of a decisive military victory for either side and no resolution in sight.
The possibility of a stalemate fuels fears that Ukraine will remain a deadly European battleground and a source of continental and global instability for months, if not years, to come.
Energy and food security are the most immediate concerns, but the West’s overwhelming support for Ukraine as the world still emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and struggles to cope with the effects of climate change could worsen the balance sheet of the world economy. And if Russia chooses to step up, the risk of a wider conflict increases.
The United States and its allies are injecting a steady stream of lethal weapons into Ukraine to keep it in the fight. While most analysts say kyiv is at least holding its own, these injections must continue if they are to sustain President Volodomyr Zelensky’s bid to win, or at least continue to match or ward off Moscow’s advances.
Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin has not signaled a willingness to step up the invasion with a general mobilization of troops or the use of unconventional weapons, neither has he shown any signs of backing down. Neither will Zelenskyy, who now claims that Ukraine will not only repel the current Russian invasion, but will regain control of Crimea and other areas that Russia has occupied or controlled since 2014.
“It’s very difficult 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 aims.
“There’s no way Ukraine is backing down,” Kelly said. “They think they’re going to win.”
At the same time, Kelly said that no matter how many miscalculations Putin made about Ukraine’s strength and will to resist or the unity and resolve of NATO allies, Putin cannot accept defeat or anything other than a scenario that he can pretend he achieved success.
“It would be political suicide for Putin to step down,” Kelly said. “It is very difficult to see how you could get a negotiated solution at this stage. Neither side is ready to stop fighting and the most likely outcome is probably a war that lasts a few years. Ukraine would be a festering sore in the middle of Europe.
US officials, starting with President Joe Biden, appear to be in agreement, even after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin raised his eyebrows as he said after a visit to kyiv last month that Washington’s goal was not only to help Ukraine defend itself, but to “weaken” Russia to the point. where it does not pose a threat.
Putin ‘doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we’re doing about it,’ Biden said on Monday even after signing legislation to reinvigorate the Second Year’s ‘lend-lease’. World War. program and called on Congress to approve a $40 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine.
So what to do? French President Emmanuel Macron has emphasized a negotiated settlement that saves face for both Russia and Ukraine.
“We will have a peace to build tomorrow, 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 negotiation will be determined by Ukraine and Russia. But this will not be done in denial, nor in exclusion from each other, nor even in humiliation.
US officials are not so sure, even though they admit that the end game belongs to Ukraine.
“Our strategy is to ensure that Ukraine emerges victorious,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said this week. “Ukraine will do it at the negotiating table. Our goal is to strengthen Ukraine’s position at this negotiating table as we continue to impose mounting costs on the Russian Federation.
But uncertainty over what constitutes a “victorious” Ukraine has alarmed officials in some European capitals, notably those in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, NATO members bordering Russia and particularly worried about possible Moscow’s future intentions. .
For the Baltics and other countries on NATO’s eastern flank, the threat is real and memories of Soviet occupation and domination remain fresh. Concessions to Russia in Ukraine will only encourage Putin to push further west, they say.
“To be honest, we’re still not talking about the endgame,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told The Associated Press in an interview on Monday. He said any territorial concession in Ukraine would usher in a world where the “rules-based order” has been replaced by a “rules-based order in the jungle”.
Landsbergis suggested that Western nations issue public statements about what success would be like. “Where would we consider what we would take for victory, real victory? What would be the scenario that we would like?
Landsbergis has been outspoken in his calls for Putin’s ousting as Russia’s leader, going far beyond the US position and that of other NATO leaders. He says regime change in Moscow is the only way to protect European and Western security in the long term.
“Coming from me, it’s much easier to say that we need regime change in Russia, so we’ve been pretty direct and open about it,” he said. “Maybe for the United States it’s a lot harder to be open about it, but still, at some point we have to talk about it because it’s so important.”