Experts fear stalemate, ‘frozen conflict’ in Ukraine

By Sydney J Freedberg Jr.

Experts believe Ukraine’s near-term will be a gruelling marathon between the West’s ability to churn out arms and Russia’s capacity to suffer.

Despite 11 months of brutal war across Ukraine, there is no end in sight. With neither side able to break the other’s army on the battlefield, and both unwilling to come to the negotiating table, the emerging consensus says the likely outcome is a long war or a “frozen conflict”: a heavily armed peace broken by frequent, inconclusive violence. This marathon contest, the analysts warned, will strain both western democracies’ resolve and their defence production — and the Russian people’s historic capacity for endless suffering and loss.

Another mass mobilization of Russian men, now widely expected, will not enable Putin to drown the Ukrainians in human-wave assaults. But forthcoming Western deliveries of heavy tanks, long-range rockets, and even fighter jets may not enable Ukraine to break through Russia’s ever-deeper lines of fortifications, either.

“Based on how the Russians are digging in at this point in eastern Ukraine, through a network of defensive positions and trenches, multiple lines, deep minefields, I think it’s going to be really costly for the Ukrainians to [oust] them from all areas of occupation,” said Dara Massicot, a Russia scholar, during a briefing for reporters. “That being said, I just don’t see the Zelensky government ever wanting to sit down and negotiate with Russians for some type of territorial concession.”

The Kremlin position looks equally entrenched, said Massicot’s colleague John Tefft, a Foreign Service veteran who was ambassador to Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia itself. “I’ve kind of thought from the beginning here that Putin is so dug in on this… he’s not going to budge or is going to only budge at the very last minute if he’s under intense political pressure at home,” Tefft said. “It’s worth thinking through what a negotiation would look like but given the military realities on the ground and Putin’s determination — and the Ukrainian’s determination — to keep fighting on, this doesn’t augur well.”

Nor is Putin likely to keep any promises he makes, Tefft added. “When I was ambassador in Georgia, in 2008, everyone will remember that first, the president of France and [then-US Secretary of State] Condi Rice came and negotiated a ceasefire agreement, and the Russians haven’t implemented anything that they agreed to.”

It’s important to note that a stalemate doesn’t mean no fighting. Far from it: remember the Western Front of World War I.

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