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People walk among destroyed military vehicles on a city street

When will Russia's war on Ukraine end? Or will it continue for the sake of conflict?

People walk around destroyed Russian military vehicles installed in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine. Kyiv authorities have banned mass gatherings in the capital through Thursday for fear of Russian missile attacks. Independence Day, like the six-month mark in the war, falls on Wednesday. AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

Six months into the military conflict, Russia and Ukraine are entrenched in their points of view, a Northeastern expert says, which gives little hope for peace in the near future. 

On Aug. 24, Ukraine celebrated its Independence Day, which also marked the six-month anniversary of the Russian invasion. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the courage of his people over the last six months, addressing the nation on the day the country had declared its independence from the Soviet Union 31 years ago. 

“It doesn’t matter to us what kind of army you have, what matters to us is our land. We will fight for it until the end,” Zelenskyy said.

The day was replete with Russian artillery and air strikes, according to the Defense Ministry of Ukraine, mostly in the forward areas and Russian-controlled territories in the East, with a few bombardments reported in northeast and central Ukraine. Most distressing news arrived in the evening—a Russian missile attack on a train killed 25 people and wounded 31 more at the Chaplyne village train station, about 44 miles from the front line.

Positions become more and more entrenched, and the front line becomes more and more defined.

Pablo Calderon Martinez, Northeastern University–London

With Russia using Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine as a shield and the recent car bombing near Moscow, it is becoming really hard to see a path toward peace, says Pablo Calderon Martinez, assistant professor of politics and international relations at Northeastern University–London. 

“In the last few weeks, what we’ve seen really is intensification of not necessarily the armed conflict, but certainly an entrenchment of the positions of the two [sides],” Calderon Martinez says.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has become less intense, but it will be hard to resolve, he says.

“What we are seeing here is this constant violation of the traditional rules of engagement, the rules of war,” Calderon Martinez says.

He suggests that the conflict is perhaps turning into a “new war,” a term coined by the British academic Mary Kaldor. New wars are low-intensity, prolonged conflicts that become less predictable and less asymmetrical, Calderon Martinez says.

“We see this being the case with Ukraine and Russia, [which is] simply being unable to defeat the Ukrainian army,” he says.

The initial objective of a new war eventually gets lost, he says, and the conflict continues for the sake of the conflict.

Taking over power plants is not an uncommon strategic military goal; however, Russia has demonstrated that it is not interested in compromise by using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as a shield, Calderon Martinez says. Instead, Russia has created a sense of confusion and panic among the international community and the local population due to a high risk of a nuclear accident, which is a very dangerous strategy.

Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of artillery shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

In the long term, Russia is hoping that people around the world will become desensitized to the conflict in Ukraine, Calderon Martinez says, the same way the world got used to conflicts in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, President Biden announced that the U.S. will send to Ukraine $2.98 billion worth of weapons and equipment, the biggest tranche of security assistance to date.

“The United States of America is committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue the fight to defend their sovereignty,” Biden said. 

The U.S. and Europe will have to continue supporting Ukraine, Calderon Martinez says, for as long as the war goes on. Backtracking and giving up on Ukraine would be incredibly costly for the Western countries. It would both harm the reputation of the West and embolden Russian and other authoritarian regimes around the world.

The change of seasons and winter will test the patience of the European constituents and the popular support of Ukraine in the war. Energy prices are bound to rise in winter and further increase the cost of living across Europe, Calderon Martinez says, which will lead to Europeans, feeling the pinch more acutely.

“We’ll have to see how different national governments will react to this across Europe,” he says.

The impending change of leadership in the U.K. and mid-term elections in the U.S. might bring on change in domestic politics and, eventually, in foreign policy.

Calderon Martinez expects to see a similar pattern happening in Russia.

“The economic crisis in Russia is going to intensify,” he says. “Russia has been spending huge amounts of its reserves, propping up the ruble.”

“We seem to be in this sort of stalemate that doesn’t help anyone. It just means that positions become more and more entrenched, and the front line becomes more and more defined,” Calderon Martinez says.

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