Kremlin boss Putin is continuing to build up his army, and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is getting even more military aid from the USA. Both are confident of victory. Peace is not in sight, and a negotiated solution is far away, says expert Gerhard Mangott.

During his visit to the United States, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy left no doubt: “We will win because we are united, the United States, Ukraine and the entire free world.”

Shortly before, Russia’s head of state Vladimir Putin, who is waging a war of aggression against Ukraine, had also expressed his confidence in victory: “I am sure that we will achieve all our goals step by step.”

While Zelenskyj demanded more heavy weapons from the USA and was promised the delivery of the Patriot air defense system, Putin announced that his new Sarmat-type ICBM, which can be equipped with nuclear warheads, will soon be ready for use.

Ten months after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there seems to be no end to the war in sight. On the contrary. Both Moscow and Kyiv pledge to continue fighting. Fights that have already claimed thousands of lives, destroyed many towns and villages, forced millions to flee and caused immeasurable suffering.

The chances of an end to the horrors caused by Putin are slim, says Russia expert Gerhard Mangott. The professor of political science at the University of Innsbruck told FOCUS online: “The war will continue to accompany us.”

Wars could end in two ways, the expert said. Either a warring party asserts itself militarily and wins the battle. Or both warring parties are militarily exhausted, no longer see any prospects of success on the battlefield and are therefore ready to negotiate. “But we are still a long way from both scenarios in this war.”

Mangott’s analysis of the current situation: “There is currently hardly any movement on the front lines. Ukrainian gains are as rare as those of the Russians. A trench war is looming for the next few weeks.”

The Ukrainian leadership expects a Russian offensive “at the end of January at the earliest, maybe later,” said Mangott. However, he doubts that the Russian army has the power for a large-scale military offensive. “The Russian army is currently digging in and forming defensive lines to defend the territory it has conquered so far. Territory should therefore be held and not new areas conquered.”

The extent to which Ukraine can defend itself or recapture areas occupied by Russian troops depends “very much on arms deliveries from the West”.

Mangott: “Some time ago, an adviser to the head of Zelenskiy’s presidential office, Mikhail Podoliak, presented a wish list. These include German Leopard main battle tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles, US M1 Abrams tanks, long-range artillery, including the Army Tactical Missile System and finally the Patriot air defense system.”

When Volodymyr Zelenskyy – by then a popular actor and comedian – surprisingly won Ukraine’s presidential election in 2019, the world assumed he would be a weak leader and easily swayed by the Kremlin with the help of the oligarchs. But the opposite was the case: Selenskyj proved to be a man with backbone, courageous and inflexible. In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he became a true statesman, commanding respect even from his enemies.

The last wish came true yesterday during Zelensky’s visit to Washington. A Patriot battery is transferred to Ukraine. “This is important for Ukraine’s ability to repel Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure using cruise missiles, drones, airplanes and ballistic missiles,” Mangott said.

“The US system has a much longer range than all air defense systems delivered to Ukraine so far. However, this will not bring about a turning point in the war.”

The political science professor believes that the other wishes will not be fulfilled “in the foreseeable future”. “Both Germany and the USA fear an escalation of the war through the delivery of these armaments.”

Even if Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under pressure in his coalition and by other NATO members, the delivery of Leopard II and Marder is currently not to be expected. “Without these weapons, however, it will hardly be possible for Ukraine to achieve its war goal – namely to expel all Russian troops from all of Ukraine, including Crimea.”

According to Mangott, the prospects of a negotiated solution will remain slim for the foreseeable future. Both warring parties have declared that they are willing to negotiate. “But both set conditions that are unacceptable to the other side.”

For example, before starting negotiations, Russia demands that Ukraine recognize the “realities on the ground”. This means nothing other than that Ukraine recognizes the loss of the areas in the south and east occupied by the Russian army. “This is not acceptable for the Ukrainian leadership. According to surveys, territorial concessions to Russia are also out of the question for the Ukrainian population,” said Mangott.

The Ukrainian leadership, on the other hand, does not want to negotiate until all Russian soldiers have left Ukrainian territory. The internationally recognized borders of Ukraine are to be restored. The professor: “But that would be a catastrophic war defeat for Russia, which she is not prepared to accept.”

Mangott’s conclusion: “Western arms supplies therefore remain essential for Ukraine to be able to defend itself. There is no alternative to this, unless one wants to make Russia’s war of aggression successful.”

Against this background, the highly emotional and widely acclaimed appearance of the Ukrainian President in the USA does not represent an “act of desperation”, as a commentator in the Tagesschau (ARD) commented. “It was an expression of gratitude for the support so far and, more importantly, an effort to rally skeptical Republican members of Congress to continue military and financial aid to Ukraine.”

Mangott does not believe that Zelensky’s visit to the USA has brought a negotiated solution closer. That wasn’t the purpose of the trip either. “The emotional appearance before Congress was aimed at the American public to continue supporting Ukraine. Selensky did not want to use the appearance for a peace offer.”

The West wants to continue supporting Ukraine, including with weapons. That is largely the consensus. However, the expert explained that there are different positions on the question of which war goals the Ukrainian army should achieve. Above all, the Eastern European governments support the maximum goal of the Ukrainian leadership: the Russians should be expelled from the entire Ukraine.

“Some Western European governments, on the other hand, are calling for more moderate war aims. They fear that the conflict could escalate if the Ukrainian maximum goal is pursued.”

Mangott speaks of a “horizontal escalation”, i.e. a development in which other countries are drawn into the war. The other scenario would be a “vertical escalation”, with Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons as a possible last-resort option.

“The use of nuclear weapons is currently extremely unlikely. The use of such weapons is only possible in a scenario of the catastrophic defeat of the Russian army and the loss of Crimea,” Mangott told FOCUS online.

In his speech to the Extended Council of the Defense Ministry, Putin also announced that the RS-28 Sarmat ICBM will be operational next year. “It was another implicit threat of nuclear escalation,” Mangott said. “But this ballistic missile does not change the course of the war in Ukraine. It is intended only for a global thermonuclear war between the US and Russia.”