– The time has come to end Russia’s war against Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated in his speech to the G-20 summit recently.
Nobody is at the negotiating table yet.
But are the parties on their way there? Many are now talking about ending the war.
– At the international level, there is a lot on the agenda in terms of negotiations now. It’s hard to be accidental, says Janne Haaland Matlary. She is Professor of International Politics at UiO and the Norwegian Defense Staff College.
The United States decides
Mattlari was one of four researchers who met at the University of Oslo (UiO) this week to discuss how to end the war in Ukraine.
All four agreed that it was not easy to say what it would take to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Mattelary said this is a much more difficult situation than any other I know when it comes to finding a middle ground.
Moreover, she believes that the decision is not Ukraine.
– It’s the United States. The weapons used in Ukraine are mainly funded by the Americans, although the European Union also provides support.
Without arms shipments at the speed we have seen so far, Ukraine will not be able to continue fighting.
Fear of nuclear weapons
Matlary indicated during the meeting that the Biden administration has now stopped talking about Ukraine winning this war.
You think one of the factors behind this might be the fear of nuclear weapons.
– Americans are beginning to fear these threats.
Øyvind Østerud, Professor of Political Science at UiO, stated that Russia is the largest nuclear power in the world. If he puts the Russians in trouble, we don’t know what could happen.
Osterud believes Russia can detonate a nuclear bomb outside the war zone, without anyone being killed. Just to prove that they can.
– What does the Western world do next?
– If they do not allow themselves to be deterred, but continue the same pressure on Russia, the Russians will probably use tactical weapons on the battlefield. This could be anything from relatively small weapons to the size of the Hiroshima bomb.
– Osterode added, “This is a very dangerous situation.”
Does Putin break the taboo nuclear weapons?
It is precisely the fear of nuclear weapons that may make more people now consider sitting around the negotiating table.
Mattlary believed that, on the one hand, Vladimir Putin would lose more than he could gain by breaking the taboo on nuclear weapons.
If he uses nuclear weapons, he risks becoming a political pariah. For China, India and other countries.
– But on the other hand, if you threaten them and argue with them and absolutely nothing happens, most people will say that these are just empty threats.
Pigeons and hawks in Europe
Tormod Heyer, a professor at the Norwegian Defense Academy, believes that with the use of nuclear weapons, the race is over for Russia.
Hence, many countries that are now sitting on the fence and have not taken a stand in this war will distance themselves from Putin and the Russians.
During the meeting, Heyer pointed to a division in European politics between what he called “doves” and “hawks.”
– I think the hawks are eager to put pressure on Russia as much as possible. Pigeons are a little more afraid of what will happen if we push the Russians too far.
Russia also fears nuclear weapons
During the meeting, Hukon Lundy-Sachs, an assistant professor at the University of Defense, pointed out how busy the Biden administration in the United States and NATO has always been in avoiding direct confrontation with Russia. It is believed that both would rather sacrifice Ukraine than go to war against Russia.
And he believes that it might be completely different if the Russians did not have nuclear weapons.
But the United States and NATO also have nuclear weapons. It has a deterrent effect on Russia and makes it difficult for the Russians to take action against Western countries.
– Presumably, the Americans told Russia that if they use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the West will intervene militarily and attack Russian forces there.
If we’re a little optimistic, it seems likely that nuclear weapons won’t be used. Because nobody cares about it.
But we must certainly fear it, as Saxe warned and reminded:
– We have constantly underestimated Russia’s willingness to take risks.
war of attrition
Political science professor Oyvind Osterud cannot imagine how the war in Ukraine could end peacefully.
The mistrust between the two parties runs very deep.
It’s hard to imagine Ukraine again demanding that Russia not achieve anything.
– It is also difficult to imagine Russia’s unconditional surrender.
So Osterode does not believe that either side can win this war.
Russia has a lot to go on. They can muster more soldiers. They can tighten the waist belt more than they have done so far. I don’t think they will accept a major defeat.
– At the same time, Ukraine has a colossal will to resist. They sacrificed a lot. So there will be many who will give nothing at all. They have already sacrificed everything.
All together, this means that we are already fine with what is called a war of attrition.
Osterud warns that the war in Ukraine could join the protracted series of wars that have continued over the past 20 years, wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Sahel region of Africa.
A harsh winter is coming
The weak point of the war of attrition in Ukraine will be the support Ukrainians receive from the Western world. And how much Western opposition to participating in the war.
Øyvind Østerud reminded us that we are facing a harsh winter in Europe.
Many people in the West know the expensive times and inflation firsthand. Recently, there have been large demonstrations against the war in Ukraine in several places in Europe. Politicians on the far right and left of both political parties in the United States are also opposed to participating in a protracted war.
Osterode warned that resistance in both Europe and the United States might grow.
This article was first published in forcing.
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