Unwinnable War

NOW in its second year, the war in Ukraine continues to rage. Neither Russia nor Ukraine seem to have a clear edge on the ground. In recent days, Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine has become the site of a relentless battle. A victory here for the either side is expected to change the complexion of the war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening address on Monday that Ukraine’s future depends on a victory in Bakhmut and elsewhere along the front line. Bakhmut has become the main focus of Russia’s assault, as it would allow it to capture the rest of the Donetsk region,  a principal war objective for the Russian president Vladimir Putin. And in achieving this he has deployed a substantial chunk of his military strength to take Bakhmut. So much rides on Bakhmut. The NATO is also deploying all its resources to foil Russia’s advance. That is why, in recent weeks, warfare has claimed a huge toll for both sides in Bakhmut.

If anything, this shows that both sides are fighting to ensure the defeat of the other side. There is little effort for a negotiated settlement. Now Chinese leader Xi Jinping who recently achieved peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran reportedly plans to speak with Zelensky for the first time since the start of the Ukraine war – likely after he visits Moscow next week to meet with Putin. If this comes through, this would probably be the first such attempt at mediation between the two sides.

The war’s bigger challenge for the existing world order is still very much intact. Russia has thrown down the gauntlet at the west.  And this is not the first time Russia has done it. A few years ago,  Russia’s intervention in Crimea had brought back memories of the geo-politics of the cold war. Russia’s increasing defiance of the West and China’s inexorable rise have confronted the US and the EU with a new existential crisis.  It  is also  altering global geopolitics and awakening the rest of the world to the reality of a declining US power. This is clear from how the nations and regional groupings have been balancing their relations with the US and China-Russia axis.

It would be great if Xi’s reported efforts at mediation succeed. War is continuing nevertheless. Ukraine is far from being defeated. So isn’t Russia, although it has suffered some reverses. But, meanwhile, the world around the site of war is changing.

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