How Will the Ukraine War End?

October 19, 2023 Topic: Russia-Ukraine War Region: Eastern Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineWarDiplomacyVladimir Putin

How Will the Ukraine War End?

The United States is pushing Ukraine further into a war that it cannot win.


In the early weeks of the war, peace was still possible before the unimaginable loss of life, the devastation of infrastructure, and the loss of land in Ukraine. That peace was possible three times: in talks in Belarus, in talks mediated by then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, and, most promisingly, in talks in Istanbul. In all three, the war could have been ended on terms that satisfied Ukraine. In all three, Ukraine was willing to renounce membership in NATO. And, in all three, the United States blocked the negotiations.

Though the negotiated terms satisfied Ukrainian goals, they did not satisfy U.S. goals. The United States told Ukraine to go on fighting instead of negotiating and promised weapons, training, and intelligence for “as long as it takes.” The three-day war that might have ended in Belarus and the weeks-long war that produced a signed tentative agreement in Istanbul became a now year-and-a-half-long war.


The United States pushed Ukraine into a disastrous counteroffensive, knowing that it “didn’t have all the training or weapons—from shells to warplanes—that it needed to dislodge Russian forces." Instead, U.S. officials counted on “Ukrainian courage and resourcefulness” and “envisioned Kyiv accepting the casualties.”

There is a dawning realization in the political West that the war is not going to end with a military victory for Ukraine and that it is not going to end by attaining the goals necessary to force Russia to concede Ukraine’s key demands at the negotiating table. It is long past the moment when Ukraine is in the best position “on the battlefield [to] be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.”

Hundreds of thousands of lives and limbs after peace could have been attained in Istanbul, Ukraine will likely be forced to sign an agreement on the same terms—but worse—than it could have signed in Istanbul. As in Istanbul, Ukraine will still have to guarantee neutrality, but they will do so without at least parts of the Donbas, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia, all of which they could have kept at that time.

Since Istanbul, Ukraine has suffered the loss of lives, limbs, and land only to sign an agreement that they were willing to sign at the start of the war. That is the tragedy. The whole war was fought to end the same way it could have ended weeks into the war, but on worse territorial terms and with horrendously greater loss of life.

The war’s beginning was Russia’s fault; the war’s end will be America’s.

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative, as well as other outlets.

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