As Russia’s war in Ukraine becomes a quagmire of attrition, Western leaders are slowly coming to two realisations about Vladimir Putin’s intentions.
First, Russia’s war against Ukraine won’t be over soon and is likely to grind on for the foreseeable future.
Second, it’s pointless to try to imagine a future in which relations with Moscow are characterised by anything other than mutual mistrust and hostility.
In spite of this, there is still the chance that Russia’s invasion falls off the international radar through a Western inability to deal with hard realities.
Putin’s war of expansion In an interview with a German newspaper, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg estimated the war could take years, rather than months.
Patrick Sanders, the incoming chief of the British Army, has claimed the UK’s armed forces need to be oriented around fighting a ground war with Russia.
And after an awkwardly frosty hug with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, even French President Emmanuel Macron, whose calls to Putin have annoyed Kyiv and who previously warned Putin must not be humiliated, has voiced his unequivocal support for Ukraine.
These epiphanies are long overdue. There’s no point in dreaming up elaborate diplomatic “off-ramps” for Putin when it’s abundantly clear he sees no need for them.
Doing so also denies Ukraine agency in determining how the war ends, and presupposes a post-conflict European security order can meet both Russian and Western requirements. As witnessed prior to Russia’s invasion on February 24, the Kremlin isn’t content with anything short of regaining something close to the geostrategic footprint of the USSR.
Obsessed with territorial aggrandizement, and having cynically cultivated a fetish for militarism in Russian society, Vladimir Putin recently admitted as much when he compared himself to Peter the Great, noting “now it’s our turn to get our lands back”.
At the very least, Putin’s words should put to bed the vastly overstated claim that the enlargement of Western security structures somehow forced Putin to invade Ukraine. This is clearly a war of Russian expansion, not NATO expansion.