The increasingly murky prospect of an end to Putin's Ukraine war

POLITICS: The increasingly murky prospect of an end to Putin’s Ukraine war

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How is the Ukraine war going to end?

This question bedevils smaller arguments over Western aid to the brave Ukrainian forces. Bringing it into tighter focus is Vladimir Putin’s decision to pass the winter with ever-more-brutal strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure and civilian targets — such as last Saturday’s murderous missile attack on a Dnipro apartment building, which killed dozens including six children. 

Putin’s invasion must fail. Anything else represents a serious blow to US interests in Europe, to NATO’s stability and to the larger world order. Atop all Moscow’s brutality, the war on Ukraine is as much an attack on that order as it is a territorial gambit

But Washington is mired in a game of escalation that’s lethargic, confused — and reactive. Yes, we’ve sent Ukraine lots of help — including lethal aid — but only after Putin upped his violence first. And even US “escalations” are hesitant. Our meager gift of one Patriot air defense system, for example, carries all the risks President Joe Biden professes to fear, but with minimized benefits: Ukraine needs more Patriots for them to be effective.

We’ve also kiboshed MiG transfers from regional allies, balked at sending tanks and said no to more advanced tactical missile systems that would greatly increase Ukrainian range — all on the theory that helping Ukraine strike inside Russia might prompt Putin to go nuclear.

He and other top Russians keep making that threat, because it works to keep the West from doing more. 

Yet it’s plain that more is required to force Putin to end the war. A military defeat, at the moment, looks like the only real path to freedom and security for Ukraine. A negotiated settlement seems off the table, as the Kremlin’s demands remain “let us win.”

Putin’s insane territorial claims would almost certainly exceed anything Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky might agree to, while Zelensky and his government want everything back, including Crimea. Even if the West threatens to end its support to blackmail Ukraine into some bad deal, Putin’s record shows he’ll break it at his own convenience.

A mild winter (so far) has aided the Ukrainians’ resistance. And the Russian army’s deep-rooted logistical and personnel issues bode ill for Putin’s rumored coming massive troop callup.

Putin plainly means to outlast his way to victory, betting as much on Western will as any battlefield success. Ukraine and its allies can defeat that approach by holding firm.

But ultimate victory relies on a strategy led by the United States that puts Ukraine on the front foot enough to force Russia to give up the fight.

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