The war in Ukraine appears to be entering a stalemate, with both sides taking heavy casualties, and neither making substantial gains against the other. That’s the view of commentators like Barry Posen, Ivo Daalder, James Goldgeier, Condaleeza Rice, Robert Gates, Philippe Lemoine and Antoly Karlin. It’s also reflected in prediction markets.
According to Metaculus, there’s only a 20% chance that Ukraine will control the Donbas by 2024, and only a 10% chance it will control Sevastopol (the largest city in Crimea). Likewise, Manifold Markets gives only a 28% chance that Ukraine will control Crimea by the end of this year.
While Metaculus gives a 45% chance that Ukraine will sever the Crimea-Russia land bridge by 2024, it gives a 60% chance that Russia will still control parts of Ukraine other than the LNR, DNR and Crimea. As for the possibility that we’ll see a coup or regime change in Russia, the community says there’s only a 12% chance.
Of course, these are just the implied probabilities from lots of educated guesses, so they shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But they’re better than any one individual’s gut feeling.
It’s certainly possible that the war will develop to Ukraine’s advantage – especially if Western countries deliver all the weapons that General Zaluzhny asked for in his recent interview with The Economist.
But he asked for a lot: “300 tanks, 600-700 IFVs, 500 howitzers” – an incremental arsenal “bigger than the total armoured forces of most European armies”. And at the present time, Western countries seem reluctant to substantially increase their military assistance to Ukraine.
Never mind 500 howitzers, Germany is still dithering over whether to allow other countries to transfer German-made Leopard tanks. And while the U.S. has sent an unprecedented quantity of weapons, it hasn’t budged on Abrams tanks or long-range missiles. (According to a Washington Post report in December, the U.S. actually altered HIMARS launchers to prevent them firing missiles that could reach Russia.)
The ostensible reasons for Western countries’ reluctance include: concerns about their own dwindling stockpiles, not wanting to get “dragged further into the war”, and wishing to avoid catastrophic escalation. (One might speculate that some U.S. officials actually want to prolong the war, the better to weaken Russia – and Europe.)
Given these apparent constraints, why are Western leaders not pushing both sides to the negotiating table?
Do they think Ukraine can win decisively with the current level of assistance? If so, they have to explain why many analysts are sceptical. And if not, what do they hope to achieve by eschewing the n-word (negotiations) – other than more death and destruction?