Two years ago, when Russian tanks rolled into Ukrainian territory, many predicted that the war would be over in weeks. Ukraine seemed woefully unprepared, and, up until a couple of weeks earlier, the government was marred by scandal and enjoying little support in the polls. Moreover, while nominally supportive of Ukraine, many in Europe and the West doubted its ability to resist. 

Vladimir Putin’s hope to capitalise on this backfired. The Ukrainian response was one of unity; many rallied to defend their homeland when faced with an existential threat. Several in Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine turned against Moscow. At the grassroots level, when tested, people showed remarkable resilience. 

The Ukrainian government pulled its act together. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a comic-turned-politician, became an unlikely hero and a worldwide symbol of resistance against the illegal Russian aggression. His relentless worldwide campaign to garner support did not go unheeded.

The West imposed sanctions on Russia and assisted militarily and financially.

Moreover, Putin’s war had the unintended consequence of uniting Europe in ways unseen in over a decade. All member states of the European Union were in agreement that Russia’s invasion was illegal and brutal. 

Other countries have also seemingly questioned policies dating back decades, if not centuries. Finland joined NATO, fearing Russian aggression. Sweden abandoned its 200-year-old policy of neutrality to embrace NATO membership. 

Switzerland did not abandon its iron-clad neutrality, yet it adopted several sanctions due to Russia’s “serious violation of the most fundamental norms of international law”.

Putin’s best-case scenario was possible international indifference. In the initial stages of the war, it seemed as though he had seriously miscalculated. If anything, the war has revealed the extent of the moral bankruptcy of the Russian regime. Its actions since then have continued to confirm this.  The relentless attacks – even directed against the media, including Times of Malta – and attempts at disinformation and de-stabilisation have proven ineffective. The death in custody of Alexei Navalny continues to show the true nature of this regime for those who still defend it. Navalny had famously described the invasion of Ukraine as a vanity project intended to make Russia look bigger on the map.

The war has also uncovered some deficiencies in Russia’s decision-making process. The Russian Military, despite its apparent might, is poorly trained, poorly led and poorly equipped. The bombardment of Ukrainian infrastructure, together with the occasional nuclear threat, is a sign of desperation rather than a sign of clear strategy.

Nonetheless, the Ukrainian counteroffensive, although successful in some areas, has not achieved the desired results. Progress has stalled, and while it makes Russia uncomfortable, the sign of a breakthrough remains bleak. As things stand, the war has reached a stalemate. Its cost may lead to a wavering of principles the world over. 

The Trump Republicans in the US House of Representatives have already shown signs of wavering, which is no surprise really, judging by Donald Trump’s ignorance of foreign policy. A victory for Putin will have a devastating effect well beyond the region.

The stalemate also raises the prospect of the importance of diplomatic talks. Perhaps the lack of progress has revealed just how inevitable they are. Such discussions may also lead to a redrawing of some red lines outlined by the Ukrainian side, most notably the issue of Crimea and perhaps even some parts of the Eastern-occupied territories.

The international dynamic becomes more complex as the conflict enters its third year. While negotiating with an aggressor and a bully can send the wrong signal, the continuation of the war is likely to continue exacerbating the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the region.

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