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Where does the Russian-Ukrainian conflict go from here?


As the war in Ukraine rages on, several peace talks and growing economic sanctions against Russia have so far failed to stop the aggression.

The Ukrainians have withstood several days of airstrikes and shelling in several towns since the invasion began on February 24. The better-equipped Russian military showed no signs of de-escalation and claimed to have taken control of several regions of Ukraine, although it was also slowed down by Ukrainian resistance.

How far Russian President Vladimir Putin will go, how long Ukrainian forces can hold out and what exactly it will take to end the conflict are key questions in the war.

“Nobody has a crystal ball and it’s very difficult to predict the outcome of a conflict,” said retired General Robert Abrams, an ABC News contributor and former commander of US forces in Korea.

Amid “unprecedented” sanctions on Russia and stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, “what seems to be happening is that Putin is getting even more resolute,” Abrams said. He pointed to Putin’s threatening comments on Saturday about Ukraine’s statehood, which “means clearly that Russia intends to invade, occupy and integrate Ukraine into Russia, and to erase the name Ukraine and replace it with Russia. This is new. And this is an indication that it will be difficult to judge how far Putin will go.”

Role of international aid

Asked at a press conference on Thursday by ABC News foreign correspondent Ian Pannell how long Ukraine can resist the Russian advance, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy replied: “I don’t know.”

A key factor in Ukraine’s struggle is the level of support from the international community, including NATO, the European Union and the United Nations, Abrams said.

The United States has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, and millions more in lethal aid have been sent by NATO and several EU countries.

“I think there are many other things we can do to support the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian people,” such as weapons, ammunition, improved communications and food, Abrams said. “This is going to require a continuous and predictable resupply in Ukraine to be able to give them the necessary means to defend themselves.”

In a Zoom call Saturday with more than 300 U.S. lawmakers, Zelenskyy pleaded for more air support, including drones and planes, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, told ABC News Live. Quigley said the president also reiterated his call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which experts say could very quickly escalate into a “World War III” type scenario.

“To those advocating for a no-fly zone, we all just have to ask the question, are we prepared for the aftermath – basically starting World War III?” Abrams said. “I don’t think we are, I don’t think it’s worth risking that level of conflict, because that’s what’s coming. President Putin has made it clear that anyone will intervene militarily will be treated as an enemy. This is not bluffing.”

“And he is ready to escalate this conflict as high as anyone wants,” he continued.

The sanctions, which have been imposed on Russian banks, oligarchs and Putin himself, are “very effective and powerful” but could take months to have an impact, Michael Kimmage, an expert on US-Russian relations and former State Department staffer, told NPR’s “Fresh Air” last week.

“I think that even in the most optimistic assessment, that the sanctions, that they are going to change the Russian reckoning, maybe in three, four months, maybe several years, and the war is going absolutely in time. real,” Kimmage said. said in the interview. “Three months is too long, in a way, for Ukraine.”

Morale on both sides

Another key factor in the outcome of the conflict is how long Ukrainians can “maintain their will”, Abrams said.

“How much are they willing to sacrifice for their country?” he said. “It is crystal clear that they have been galvanized, the country has been galvanized, that the people of Ukraine are fighting for their country and for their way of life. … What will it look like Day 60? Day 120? Hard to predict.”

President Joe Biden remarked during his State of the Union last week that “the fearlessness of Ukrainians, their courage, their determination literally inspires the world.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy played a key role in maintaining morale, Abrams said.

“He’s been masterful in leading his country through this conflict,” Abrams said. “He shares the same difficulties, he communicates with his people. He constantly communicates with the international community.”

This connection can help Ukraine win, he said, even though “we are going to live very, very difficult and difficult days and difficult images, for those of us who look outside “.

Meanwhile, Russia’s military, while superior, has faced logistical challenges, including food and fuel shortages, and a “lack of cohesion and discipline”, which could work in Ukraine’s favor , Abrams said.

“I think that’s the big picture that people really need to understand about the dynamics and what drives soldiers to fight with the ferocity and intensity that we expect to see,” he said. -he declares. “It comes down to, do you believe in what you’re fighting for? And in that case, I think what we’re seeing aren’t necessarily widespread effects of lack of food or fuel – that certainly has a role. to play — but I don’t think the Russian military believes in what they’re fighting for.”

As the conflict drags on and Ukraine continues to put up resistance, particularly around its capital, “Moscow’s appetite for war may diminish,” Kimmage said on ‘Fresh Air’.

“Putin could face real pressure from his people, from the economy, to back down, and I don’t think he would call it a retreat, but maybe he would accept and try to find something It’s quite a long way off at the moment, but that would be the scenario in which Ukraine would win,” he said.

A possible exit ramp

The ‘Russian playbook’ says its military will continue to shell and shell Ukrainian cities and ‘suffocate them’, according to Abrams — citing Aleppo, Syria, and Grozny, Chechnya, as examples — in order to take control and set up his own puppet government.

The international community, in particular NATO members, has been following the conflict closely in the hope of preventing it from escalating beyond Ukraine’s borders as well.

A senior White House official told ABC News the administration is discussing efforts to ensure Putin isn’t fully locked down with no way out but a fight.

Abrams said he believed there was a chance for a potential “exit ramp” for Russia, “but that will require compromise.”

This could give the impression that Putin obtains at least one of his demands, such as recognition by Ukraine of the two breakaway regions of the Donbass region as separate states, a guarantee of neutrality in Ukraine or a commitment to this that Ukraine never join NATO.

“History tells us to end these wars will always have to compromise, because I don’t think we’ll find either side giving unconditional surrender. That’s the other alternative. , and I think that’s highly, highly unlikely,” Abrams said.

While much remains unclear at this time, two things are certain, Abrams said.

“I think we can be sure that the vast majority of Ukrainian cities will probably be decimated and destroyed,” he said. “I say this because the Ukrainian resistance, its armed forces and its people, have been so strong, so capable, and it has come as a total surprise to the Russian army…and therefore the Russian army has already basically take off the gloves and they use what we call dumb bombs – munitions, rockets and artillery without precision guidance – in suburban areas and housing areas, destroying civilian infrastructure.”

Moreover, the conflict will displace millions of people, he said. So far, more than 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine, and the United Nations has predicted that 10 million Ukrainians could ultimately be displaced by war.

“There is nothing good to come out of this war,” Abrams said. “The stories of courage and heroism and just the courage, the real courage of the Ukrainian people – it’s inspiring. But their country is slowly being destroyed, one village at a time.”

ABC News

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