March 30, 2023:
Ukraine, Russia, NATO members and many other nations feeling the impact of the war in Ukraine are seeking ways to end the fighting and solve many of the world’s economic and military problems. Russia is losing the war as its troops are outnumbered, poorly equipped, untrained and perform poorly. Extensive Western economic sanctions have so devastated Russia’s war production that it cannot even begin to replace its equipment losses. The Ukrainian economy took a beating during the first year of fighting but is now recovering with the help of NATO economic aid.
For Russia, peace is only possible if they can keep some of the Ukrainian territory they occupy. Victory for Ukraine means no more Russian troops in Ukraine. That seems more achievable now, but will require a lot more fighting and lots of Russian and Ukrainian casualties.
China has proposed a peace deal that would include Russia keeping some territory. Before the war, China regarded Russia as a major economic, military and diplomatic partner. China disapproved of the war, as did India. Both nations quietly conveyed their concerns to Russia at international conferences and in diplomatic meetings. China and India would not supply Russia with weapons because that would trigger sanctions on them. China and India did help by quietly buying Russian oil, but at a large discount.
The main reason for Russian refusal to withdraw troops from Ukraine is Russian leader Vladimir Putin. A growing number of prominent Russians are going public with their concerns about the dismal prospects for Russian forces in Ukraine. Putin believes that the longer he can maintain military control over some Ukrainian territory, the more likely NATO supporters of Ukraine will grow discouraged and reduce aid. So far NATO shows no signs of reducing support. The NATO nations close to Russia or bordering Russia insist that if Russia is allowed to keep any Ukrainian territory, the Russians will attack them too, not merely Ukraine, as part of an effort to reconstitute the “Greater Russia“ that the tsars and later communists created and maintained until 1991. Putin has always insisted that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was a big mistake and must be rectified. Many Russians agree with that, but are less willing to pay the economic and military price that Ukraine demonstrated would result if Russia tried.
Irrational nationalism is nothing new and often results in heavy losses for all concerned when such rebuilding is attempted using military force. At one point Putin threatened the use of nuclear weapons to achieve victory in Ukraine. That threat faded as nuclear-armed NATO nations and even China advised dropping the nuclear threats, as did many Russians. Without the nuclear threat all Putin has left is keeping the war going at any cost to Russia. There is world-wide resistance to that because Ukraine and Russia supply a large portion of the grain exports that many nations depend on to keep their people fed.
Vladimir Putin is of the quite justified opinion that defeat in Ukraine will also mean the end of his two decades of ruling Russia and probably his life. He was recently indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court) for war crimes in Ukraine and an international arrest warrant issued. The immediate response of Russia was that any effort to arrest Putin while he was outside Russia would be considered an act of war against Russia. If Putin is no longer head of state in Russia, he is more vulnerable to the ICC arrest warrant. Those warrants never expire and the ICC has brought former senior government officials to trial eventually.
Currently, the most likely outcome is that Ukraine does defeat and expel all Russian forces in Ukraine. That will reveal more Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians. Russia will be considered a pariah state for some time to come because it is unlikely that it will return more than a million kidnapped Ukrainian civilians including many children. This is disappointing to many nations, especially former European trading partners who believed, until 2022, that Russia would continue being the peaceful and reliable trading partner it had been since the 1990s. Peace may return, but any hopes for an unthreatening Russia will take a lot longer.