How long Putin’s war lasts depends not only on the fighting, but also on international cooperation. If you want to understand war in all its complexity, looking at four dimensions or circles will help you.
“How long will Russia’s war go on?” The question is as understandable to ask as it is difficult to answer. It is therefore not surprising that the forecasts are very different.
In view of Putin’s potential for weapons and soldiers, as well as the strict repression and harsh propaganda in Russia, many observers say that the war can go on for a long time. It could be waged for many years to come, as no one could stop the Russian ruler from attempting to achieve his broader goals through ruthless violence against Ukraine and those sections of Russian society that don’t follow him. And as long as Ukraine receives arms and ammunition from its supporters to defend itself, neither side of the war will be so successful that the other side gives in.
Others, however, foresee an end to hostilities this year because both warring parties have learned that they can no longer militarily launch successful offensives. This was formulated most concretely by General Hans-Lothar Domröse, who predicted an armistice for early summer, because then both sides would realize that they could no longer gain space with military means. It was time for ceasefire negotiations. Negotiations about the political order in the war zone, on the other hand, would take a long time.
It remains to be seen whether these developments will materialize. However, an analysis of what happened during the war and its possible developments must look beyond the battlefield and also take into account the different political and economic circles surrounding the war.
Four circles can be distinguished here and each circle presents its own challenges and offers the warring parties its own chances of securing their respective support and cutting off the enemy from auxiliary lines.
In the inner circle, Russia as the aggressor and Ukraine as the defender fight each other. Both sides have been engaged in intense fighting with each other for almost a year. These battles are concentrated on Ukraine’s territory. Apart from a few defensive air strikes, Russia is not attacked by Ukraine.
Russia, on the other hand, did not concentrate on the military conflict from the start, but immediately attacked civilian targets – medical facilities, civilian infrastructure. From the beginning, war crimes were used as a natural means of warfare.
At the same time, both warring parties need to organize a high level of international support, which is vital for Ukraine’s military and economic survival, while Russia, which has been preparing for this war for a long time, has larger stockpiles of weapons and ammunition.
The size of the population and thus the potential for mobilization are also different; about 100 million more people live in Russia. The Russian economy has meanwhile been switched to a war economy. The biggest difference, however, is that the fighting is taking place exclusively on Ukrainian territory and Russia can use nuclear power to deter any attack on its country. This has enormous military, economic and humanitarian consequences that must be endured in Ukraine. Russia is waging the war of its choice. Ukraine defends out of necessity.
In the second circle are the direct supporters of the two warring factions. On the side of Russia Belarus, North Korea and Iran. On the side of Ukraine, the USA, Great Britain, the EU countries, Australia, South Korea and several other countries, which not only provide direct financial, military and humanitarian support, but also try to use sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Russia to reduce its ability to wage war to restrict.
This second circle is more important for Ukraine than for Russia, which is currently noticeably dependent on military goods from North Korea and Iran and has already incorporated stocks from Belarus into its armed forces. Ukraine could not long fight the war on its own, because it has not been preparing for it for years. Unlike Russia, which can draw on decades-old arsenals and has been preparing for this attack for years.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Jäger has held the Chair for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne since 1999. His research focuses on international relations and American and German foreign policy.
In the third circle are those states that enable the continuation of the war by not preventing the aggressor from continuing his war of aggression. These are above all China and India, which in their own interest give Russia a certain degree of diplomatic backing, so that the country’s political isolation is not complete, and who buy Russian oil at hefty discounts and thus make it possible to finance the war.
Turkey, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia also belong to the third circle on the Russian side, as they enable sanctions to be circumvented by expanding trade with Russia. The states do not act out of solidarity with Russia, but out of their own national interest, which partly coincides with Russian interests economically and politically.
On the Ukrainian side there are states that do not support the country in defense but buy the few exportable products or have taken in refugees.
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In the fourth circle are the other states whose policies neither prevent Russia from being able to continue the war nor effectively support Ukraine. So far, a very large majority of them have sided with Ukraine, for example when the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the war. However, this also includes states such as South Africa and Brazil, which are linked to Russia in the BRICS organization and which refuse to officially condemn Russia for the aggression.
Both sides, Russia and Ukraine, are trying to influence the states in the three circles around the war and are counting on their supporters to act in this direction as well. The priority is to get support for the war.
While Ukraine can rely on a group of fifty states united in the Ramstein Contact Group, Russia does not have such collective help. The international organizations to which Russia belongs have not come together to jointly aid the country. On the contrary, some states like Kazakhstan used the war to distance themselves from Russia.
How long the war lasts depends not only on what is happening in the battle, but also on international cooperation. Military and economic support is vital for Ukraine’s survival. For Russia it is the evasion of sanctions.
Since the war ends when Ukraine is defeated or Russia ceases hostilities, both sides face a number of foreign policy challenges. Without this international dimension, the war cannot be understood in all its complexity.
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