How will the war in Ukraine end? The 5 possible scenarios

Of Gianluca Mercuri

A total Russian victory for Moscow, with Zelensky’s overthrow? A coup in the Kremlin that overthrows Putin? A total war between NATO and Russia? Here are the possible scenarios

How will the war end? 15 days after the special operation launched by Putin in Ukraine – which turned out to be much harder than the Russian leader expected – demand dominates the meetings of politicians, diplomats, research institutes, newspaper editors.

Putting together the prevailing assumptions among experts in each sector – here collected from Financial Times – 5 scenarios can be hypothesized.

1. Total Russian victory and Zelensky’s overthrow
Despite the enormous difficulties faced by the Russians, their complete victory is still considered the most likely hypothesis. Even in this optimistic scenario for him, however, Putin would pay a heavy price in terms of military and economic losses, the reputation of his defense apparatus, internal consensus and international relations. It is not at all excluded that he is chasing a total victory, with the overthrow of the government of Volodymir Zelensky, the possible killing of the president, the establishment of a puppet regime and the birth of a Ukrainian government in exile. But even in this case it should cope a long resistance.

The latest news on the war in Ukraine

2.Partial Russian victory, partition of Ukraine, Zelenskiy government in the West

Zelensky has so far rejected any American offer of evacuation from Kiev, and with this he has probably saved, if not the integrity of Ukraine, the very idea of ​​an independent Ukrainian nation. But in the allied chancelleries the hypothesis of his withdrawal in the western part of the country remains strong. Paolo Valentino had advanced it from the beginning of the invasion, after his (ominously) illuminating interview with Dmitry Suslov, who had been listened to by the Kremlin’s foreign policy adviser. If this were the scenario – our correspondent from Berlin had written – then we would go to one partition of the country: a puppet state established in Kiev and with control of much of the current territory of Ukraine, plus a rebel area, a Donbass model with reversed parts in the west of the country. The Russian military strategy, with the attacks concentrated on the North, East, South and on Kiev, seems to confirm this direction. Which would lead to a pro-Russian Ukraine in the East and a pro-Western Ukraine in the West, with Lviv the capital. Putin would thus have the buffer he wants between the West.

3. Negotiated Agreement: Nobody gets everything
Until now, Ukraine seemed open to concessions concerning the areas it has not controlled since 2014, Crimea (already annexed by the Russians) and the areas of Donbass presided over by pro-Russian separatists (the republics of Donetsk and Lugansk). Instead, it firmly ruled out the possibility of accepting its own demilitarization and Finnishization, a permanent declaration of neutrality to be included in the Constitution. Here too, experts believe that a war that turns into a quagmire could bring an agreement closer: to understand, at that point, whether a ceasefire would sanction the territorial conquests of the Russians or would make them withdraw to a defined area. In both cases, however, the more ingrained opinion is that the West would keep the sanctions: Putin cannot think, this time, of striking, creating the fait accompli and returning to normalcy. There was an irreversible change, the common opinion.

4. Russian withdrawal and Putin’s overthrow
the most optimistic scenario, and the mere fact that it is contemplated by the experts suggests in which crawl space the Russian president has put his head. After 22 years of unchallenged power, the military stalemate and general discontent caused by the sanctions could lead the quarrels and the military apparatuses to rebel and the population to mass protests. To hope too much would be a mistake, because the leader’s grip – starting with total control of information – is still firm.

5. A war between NATO and Russia
And yes, not even the most catastrophic outcome can yet be ruled out. Various Western moves may be provoking a Russian reaction, from sending weapons to Kiev to sanctions. NATO has so far been careful to point out that the alliance as such is not supplying the Ukrainians, and has refused their repeated requests for a no fly zone that would instantly lead it to clash with the Russians. But there was no lack of mutual warnings: the Russians made it clear that sending Polish Mig fighters to Kiev would open up a very undesirable and potentially dangerous scenario; NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg replied that attacks on Western supply lines to Ukraine would escalate.

Then there are Putin’s direct threats, which in speaking of consequences greater than those you have faced in history has evoked the nuclear risk. And NATO has sent more troops to the Baltic countries. If there is still some logic in Moscow, the worst case scenario is also the most unlikely. Certainly, on the political-strategic level Putin, as Stoltenberg pointed out, is getting the opposite of what he was looking for: he wanted less born, he is getting more born.

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