BERLIN – A year into Russia‘s full-scale war in Ukraine, no one seems to have much of an idea about what the endgame for Ukraine should be – but in one important way, that doesn’t matter.
Ukraine and Russia’s official positions are polar opposites. In public, Ukrainian officials speak uncompromisingly of returning to the borders of 1991, when Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union. That would mean Kyiv re-establishing control over all the territories Russia has occupied since 2014, including Crimea and the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Russia, for its part, has stuck to the absurd war aims it set out when the invasion began. In a statement published on its anniversary, the Russian foreign ministry reiterated its long-standing demands, including the “denazification” and “demilitarisation” of Ukraine and the recognition of Moscow’s illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory. These aims have barely moved since the war started, in spite of the routs its forces have repeatedly suffered in that year.
In public, Ukraine’s Western backers largely insist that Kyiv must be permitted to define victory for itself. However, there are divergences between Kyiv and its allies. While the official American line is that Ukraine should aim for the restoration of its territorial integrity, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, reportedly expressed hesitation at the prospect of Ukrainian forces attempting to retake Crimea, which he said would be viewed as a red line by the Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Indeed, allies’ weapons deliveries to Ukraine are not yet substantial enough to decisively repeal Russia, which may have the resources and determination to continue fighting long-term, as a recent Washington Post editorial argued. Breaking the current stalemate – demonstrating to Russia that it will not be able to win a military victory, and force it into sincere negotiations – will require Kyiv’s Western backers to ramp up their support.
But reaching any agreement is likely to be greatly complicated by Ukraine’s justified mistrust of Russia. Moscow has consistently violated agreements signed with Kyiv, from the 1993 Budapest Memorandum, in which Russia pledged not to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity, to the two Minsk agreements reached in 2014 and 2015. “There will be no Minsk 3,” the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said in November last year.
Negotiations, if they come, will only be on Ukraine’s terms if Kyiv’s position is strong enough to definitively disabuse Russia of the notion that it can defeat the country on the battlefield.
This article first appeared in the World Review newsletter. It comes out every Monday; subscribe here to receive it.
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