What if the Ukraine war is never won?

Ideally, a painful stalemate like this can, over time, pressure the combatants into exploring peace talks. But the key phrase there is “over time.” The three months of war have taken an unquestionable toll on Ukraine’s civilian population (as many as 20,000 civilians may have died in Russia’s siege of Mariupol), but there remains a euphoric feeling among the Ukrainian people that military victory over the Russian occupiers is still a possibility.

There is now deep resentment, if not hatred, across Ukraine’s eastern regions (even amidst Russian-speaking Ukrainians) of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. This resentment adds fuel to the Ukrainian political elite’s more uncompromising position about what is and isn’t acceptable vis-a-vis a peace settlement.

While Zelensky recognizes that the war will only end “through diplomacy,” he is on record opposing any territorial concessions to Moscow in order to end it. Indeed, hours after Zelensky made a reference to diplomacy, his chief negotiator rejected the notion that ceding territory was an option and even questioned whether handing over the Donbas to Putin would be enough of an incentive for the Russian president to call his troops back. There is a strong feeling within the Ukrainian government that territorial concessions will simply whet Putin’s appetite for land. It’s a hypothesis that pundits in the West, the Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum especially, have used to support their argument that nothing short of a full victory for Kyiv is appropriate.

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