How can the war in Ukraine end? Supporting Ukraine and thinking ahead

Peace by Piece · Issue 01

At the moment, the much-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive is in focus. Many hope that this will change the course of the war. But even if Ukraine exceeds all expectations with this offensive, the war will probably not be brought to an end. In fact, peace currently seems so unlikely that both the Pope and the UN Secretary General expressed pessimism about its likelihood. So what are the prospects of an end to the war in Ukraine?

Looking beyond the current battlefield dynamics, the following scenarios are conceivable:

  • Total victory for Ukraine, or for Russia. Both are rather improbable, but highly sought after, for the winner would be able to dictate the terms of peace afterwards. If this scenario is pursued further, as currently appears the case, the war is likely to go on for a long time to come. A persistent risk of (nuclear) escalation cannot be ruled out in this case.
  • A negotiated settlement. This would probably require Ukraine to agree to a continued Russian occupation of parts of its sovereign territory, with more Ukrainians subjected to Russian rule, and slim prospects for reparations or justice for the war-crimes committed by Russia. Russia, on the other hand, would have to live with a Ukraine continuously armed and equipped by its Western partners, possible NATO membership (like West Germany in the 1950s) or similar security guarantees for Ukraine, and the preservation or even bolstering of the current sanctions regime by the West. While this option might stop the fighting, it clearly falls short of the combatants’ respective goals and is thus not currently being pursued.
  • A ceasefire. By freezing the conflict at the frontlines, fighting could be ended at least temporarily, but disadvantages similar to those in the previous scenario would persist. Having said that, a ceasefire would provide a welcome opportunity to regroup militarily and prepare for the next battle. It might deliver a temporary pause in the fighting, but both countries would remain on the edge of military readiness and in constant danger of a reignition of hostilities.

What should we do in the face of these choices?

The West should continue its support for Ukraine by strengthening its military capabilities. But at some point the battles will – and indeed must – come to an end. To prepare for that moment, work could begin on a framework that offers both sides – but first and foremost Ukraine – a solution that may fall short of a total victory.

About Peace by Piece

Peace is one of the major achievements on the European continent after 1945, yet it is barely being mentioned anymore. When it is, it is all too often accompanied by a connotation of appeasement and defeatism. That shouldn’t be the case. Peace is one of the most precious achievements for humankind. But building it and sustaining it requires effort, ideas, political will, and perseverance. However far out of reach it may appear, peace should nonetheless serve as the long-term aim of politicians in Europe. This series of comments provides ideas for a new European Security environment able to provide the basis for a more peaceful future in the face of new challenges.

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