Ending the War of Attrition in Ukraine
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has degenerated into a savage war of attrition that each side believes it will win, but which in reality both sides will lose. Ukraine should intensify the search for a negotiated peace of the kind that was on the table in March, but which was abandoned following the Russian atrocities in Bucha.
NEW YORK – Wars often erupt and persist because of the two sides’ miscalculations regarding their relative power. In the case of Ukraine, Russia blundered badly by underestimating the resolve of Ukrainians to fight and the effectiveness of NATO-supplied weaponry. Yet Ukraine and NATO are also overestimating their capacity to defeat Russia on the battlefield. The result is a war of attrition that each side believes it will win, but that both sides will lose. Ukraine should intensify the search for a negotiated peace of the type that was on the table in late March, but which it then abandoned following evidence of Russian atrocities in Bucha – and perhaps owing to changing perceptions of its military prospects.
The peace terms under discussion in late March called for Ukraine’s neutrality, backed by security guarantees and a timeline to address contentious issues such as the status of Crimea and the Donbas. Russian and Ukrainian negotiators stated that there was progress in the negotiations, as did the Turkish mediators. The negotiations then collapsed after the reports from Bucha, with Ukraine’s negotiator stating that, “Ukrainian society is now much more negative about any negotiation concept that concerns the Russian Federation.”
But the case for negotiations remains urgent and overwhelming. The alternative is not Ukraine’s victory but a devastating war of attrition. To reach an agreement, both sides need to recalibrate their expectations.