Six months after Russian forces launched what they hoped would be a blitzkrieg into Ukraine, the conflict has turned into a grueling campaign of daily airstrikes and fighting with no clear end in sight.

Much of the eastern and southern parts of the country are under Russian control, depriving Ukraine of the Black Sea ports essential for grain exports, the lifeblood of its economy.

Russia also suffers from Western sanctions, but few expect President Vladimir Putin to slowly but steadily end his invasion of Ukraine.

-How long can it last?-

Both sides have suffered punishing losses of life and material, but neither appears willing to consider a ceasefire.

Ukrainians believe they are fighting an existential battle to protect a national character that Putin dismisses as a historical fallacy.

“In such a situation, no one can win,” said Moscow-based political analyst Konstantin Karachev. “This ‘special military operation’ could last for years.”

“Russia wants to wear them down and win … Time is not on Ukraine’s side and its economy could collapse,” he told AFP.

Marie Dumoulin, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said strong support from Western allies would make it difficult for either side to back down now.

“Both sides believe they can maintain their military superiority, so this is unlikely to end anytime soon,” she said.

Putin has also framed the conflict as part of Russia’s resistance to expansionist NATO, making any suggestion of “defeat” unacceptable.

He was able to punish Ukraine’s aspirations for closer EU integration by advancing towards the key port of Odessa, effectively locking the country inland and curbing its exports.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky may seek more tactical successes, such as sinking the Moscow missile cruiser in April, or even attempt a counterattack to retake some areas.

“Then he will be able to re-motivate the Ukrainian army and society and justify his demands for more help from European partners,” Dumoulin said.

-Can Ukraine continue to resist?-

With military hardware and intelligence data from Europe and the United States, Ukrainian forces slowed, but failed to stall, Russian forces in Donbass and the Black Sea coast.

But it also allows Russia, which has already built a military presence in Crimea over the past eight years since its annexation by Moscow, to consolidate its position.

And so far, Zelensky’s pleas for more advanced and powerful weapons have been unsuccessful.

Dimitri Minik, research fellow at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, said: “The Ukrainian people are united and have supported their government so far, but their stability has not helped the West to support Ukraine in this war. It also strongly relies on the idea that

The cold weather will also test the resolve of Ukrainians as they face fuel shortages, cuts in electricity and heating, and other challenges, especially as more people are forced from their homes by fighting. .

Dumoulin noted that 40% of Ukrainian schools will remain closed even when classes resume in September, which could create a psychological strain.

“It’s going to be very dependent on our ability to survive the winter, especially for those behind the front lines. It’s going to be difficult,” she said.

– Can the Russian economy hold up? –

Despite Moscow’s miscalculations about Ukraine’s resistance capabilities, Russia appears ready to pay the price for a prolonged war of attrition.

Ukraine’s allies seek to strangle the Russian economy by imposing sanctions restricting imports and forcing many Western companies to leave the country, while curtailing sales of the oil and gas they depend on. did.

But “export earnings, mainly from oil, gas, coal and other commodities, have not only held up, they have beaten expectations,” said Chris, a longtime Russia analyst at the macro advisory consultancy firm. Weafer said.

Ordinary Russians have already endured sanctions since the seizure of Crimea. The government quickly found new sources of industrial parts and other materials from Turkey and Asia.

“Economy, industry and people have eight years to adapt to the sanctions and today the country and people are better prepared and more self-sufficient, albeit at a basic level. There is,” Weafer said.

But the full impact of the sanctions could start to intensify in the coming years, as Russia diverts funds from investments into the war effort and foreign firms remain vigilant.

“The full effect will be felt in about five years,” said Karachev.

– What are the potential consequences? –

Should the conflict stagnate from winter through 2023, much will depend on whether Western support is maintained, especially if voters perceive costs such as rising fuel and food prices to be too high. is.

“Perhaps the time will come when Putin will rely on the lethargy of the West to offer some opportunities … Engage Western leaders to pressure Ukraine to end the conflict on Russian terms. ” said Dumoulin.

Without a catastrophic military miscalculation, the complete collapse of the Ukrainian army is unlikely, and who would expect Zelensky to accept negotiations that would not see Ukraine recover all its lost territories, including Crimea? Very few.

If allies continue to provide aid and arms, Russia’s military superiority could steadily erode.

It could also provoke opposition forces ahead of presidential elections scheduled for March 2024, which could threaten Putin’s public support at home.

“Declaration of war, martial law or general mobilization can exacerbate tensions between the Kremlin and the rest of civil society,” said Minik.

“This would be difficult to manage in big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, where obsessive anti-Western narratives are less entrenched.”

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