(CNN Spanish) – Two questions continue to grab everyone’s attention right now, 100 days after the first battles began. When will the war in Ukraine end and what will be the outcome of the largest war conflict in Europe since World War II?
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, after months of escalation and a troop surge at the border as President Vladimir Putin blamed NATO – and Ukraine’s willingness to join the alliance – for the crisis and ramped up his hostile tone in every speech.
In the middle is the long and tense history between Russia and Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, especially after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and backed rebels who rose in the Donbass region.
Here are five possible scenarios, according to reports and expert opinions, to end a conflict that has left thousands dead and millions of refugees.
1. Russia’s victory
At the beginning of the invasion, Russia advanced from the north, east and south towards the main cities of Ukraine. Although it was unable to capture any of them and the pace of the offensive slowed due to heavy Ukrainian resistance, Russia maintains a clear military advantage over Ukraine in terms of troops and equipment, and has shifted its focus to the Donbass in the east after withdrawing in the north.
Ukraine, for its part, receives military aid from the West, which in turn has imposed a set of sanctions against Russia that will make it more difficult to conduct the war.
This first scenario indicates the collapse of the Ukrainian resistance and a complete military victory for Russia, which led to a change of government or the partition of Ukraine.
Thus, all Moscow’s goals will be achieved: strengthening the annexation of Crimea, recognition of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, disarmament of the Ukrainian army, ending Ukraine’s initiatives to join NATO and the European Union.
Subsequently, a powerful Russia might advance security negotiations with NATO or threaten the Baltic states and Poland—formerly under the influence of the Soviet Union and now in NATO—or even Finland and Sweden, which have remained neutral. During the war, they turned around and applied to join the Atlantic Alliance.
Meanwhile, Russia-occupied Ukraine may slip into rebel chaos.
2. Ukraine’s victory
Ukrainians showed unity and willingness to fight, even President Volodymyr Zelensky refused to leave the capital, Kyiv, when it was threatened by Russian forces at the beginning of the war.
The slowdown in Russia’s progress on all fronts, and Moscow’s calls for international volunteers – along with rumors of a possible mobilization – appear to show the exhaustion of Russian forces, while Western arms shipments to Ukraine intensify and the effects of sanctions are playing out even more forcefully. Russian population.
“It is likely that the Russian economy will not survive the current and future sanctions,” former US ambassadors Dennis Ross and Norman Eisen said in an op-ed on CNN.
In this scenario, the Russian military effort collapses, Ukraine launches counterattacks in which it regains part or all of the lost territory, and the situation leads to a peace agreement in which Russia withdraws its forces and claims to the country.
The consequences in Russia could be catastrophic, affecting Putin’s continuity in government or leading the leader to increase internal repression and state isolation. Although over time the lifting of sanctions will be negotiated, bringing relief to the population.
3. Negotiate exit
Ukrainian and Russian delegations held several rounds of talks in an effort to reach a peace agreement, with both sides saying at the start of the process that some progress had been made.
Zelensky said on March 16 that the Russian delegation had become “more realistic” in its position. While the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said in an interview with the state network, that “there is some hope of reaching an agreement.”
Added to these signs is a change in rhetoric in Zelensky regarding the possibility of joining NATO. For years we’ve been hearing that the door is open (for NATO membership), but now we’re hearing that we can’t get in. “This is true and we have to admit it,” he said in March.
While Lavrov stressed at the time that “the status of neutrality is now being seriously discussed, with security guarantees, of course.”
In this scenario, the talks become serious negotiations that achieve a cease-fire agreement on the basis of concessions – many of which are very painful and difficult to maintain over time – for both parties.
The agreement will end the war, but will not necessarily bring a solution to the issue of Crimea and the Donbass lands raised in 2014, even if Kyiv officially recognizes the situation. But both sides will be able to achieve a partial victory and the international community can then seek the lifting of sanctions and the restoration of trade relations, although tensions remain.
However, it is not clear how long it may take to reach an agreement, if it occurs, or how long it may last. Ross and Eisen noted that “if Russia does not achieve a decisive victory in the war, Ukraine may come to the negotiating table with greater advantages.”
In fact, the Kremlin recently said that negotiations were frozen because of Ukraine.
“Negotiations are frozen by a decision of the Ukrainian side,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call.
4. Uncontrolled climbing
In this scenario, which is perhaps the least likely, Russia’s military failure in its attempt to control all of Ukraine is reinforced, but Putin rejects any withdrawal and decides to escalate the conflict, perhaps by threatening to use his nuclear arsenal – as he has already done. It was done at the beginning of the conflict, which is one of the most powerful conflicts in the world.
Indeed, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN in March that the Biden administration was “concerned about the potential for escalation” regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear posture, though he noted “we haven’t seen anything that compels us to change our program.” Nuclear. The situation at this time.”
“We’re watching this very closely and it’s clear that the risk of escalation with nuclear power is serious and it’s a different kind of other conflict that the American people have had over the years,” he added.
Escalation could include the use of tactical nuclear weapons – low-yield warheads designed for use in the context of a conventional conflict – against Ukrainian military and logistical targets.
But it could also lead to the threat of the use of strategic nuclear weapons against NATO members, whom Putin already considers enemies for their military assistance to Ukraine.
The consequences of any escalation to this level may be unimaginable on the planet, but it is expected that tensions will initially turn on the countries of the former Soviet Union – now within NATO – and that China will have to take a more active role.
In this scenario, Russia’s advance slows down on all fronts – as it has now happened in the Donbass – but the invading forces consolidate their positions and hold the occupied territories. Meanwhile, reinforcements and resources continue to flow into Ukraine, such as the recent announcement of the shipment of HIMARS missile systems from the United States.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are achieving a defense that Russia cannot penetrate, but they are having difficulties in launching the offensive and regaining their occupied lands. Aid from the West continues, but NATO is curtailing its involvement to avoid further escalation.
In this way, in the face of the failure of peace talks, its intensity recedes and becomes a war of positions and artillery, similar to the war that has faced the separatists in Donbass and the Ukrainian government since 2014, which could last for years. Meanwhile, living conditions in Russia are collapsing due to the sanctions, and the country begins to search for potential alternatives that could bring it closer to China and India.
Ukraine’s population — whose economy could plunge 45% this year due to the war, according to the World Bank — is also suffering harsh living conditions adding to the bombers, and the country will need more help from the West to sustain itself.
Russia can still win this long conflict, having more population and resources to face the wait than Ukraine, although its goals may be more moderate due to the stalemate. The recent invasion of Mariupol, after a long siege, might make sense in this context, because it would end up connecting Crimea – which was annexed in 2014 – and the territory of Russia by land, a resounding geopolitical achievement but less than Moscow’s initial goals.
At the same time, a prolonged war in Europe could generate destabilizing effects across the region, similar to the cases of the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, or the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen in the Middle East.
With information from Stephen Collinson, Ivana Kutsova, Olga Vojtovic, Paul B. Murphy, Antonia Mortensen, Claire Foran, Niamh Kennedy and Jevan Ravindran
Publisher’s note: This article was originally published in March 2022 and was updated in June.