In the most devastating war on the European continent since 1945, there are many losers and, perhaps, only one winner.
Who is winning the Ukraine war? With the new conflict between Israel and Hamas capturing headlines, many are wondering when the European war is going to end. Western leaders are approaching the negotiations table with Russian President Vladimir Putin, at least it seems so.
In a recent prank call with the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, two famous Russian comedians made her reveal the fatigue felt in Western offices for the Ukraine war. Indeed, with the failure of the Ukrainian counter-offensive and the inability of Russia to push further, this appears as a pointless fight.
But the question remains: who is winning? After 21 months of fighting, the answer remains unclear. As a matter of fact, depending on who you ask, both sides are losing!
The sad truth is that a war is not a football match. It doesn’t end after a set amount of time, it doesn’t have any referee making the final decision. In wars, especially modern wars, the losers often outnumber the winners.
Is Ukraine losing?
Let’s start with the most obvious answer: Ukraine is losing the war. Almost one-fifth of its internationally recognized territory is occupied by the enemy, its economy is in shambles, its population keeps fleeing west and its only lifeline to continue the war is Western support.
When the invasion started in February 2022, nobody really thought Ukraine had any chance. Russian propaganda boasted that Kyiv would be taken in three days, while the United States offered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a flight outside the country.
Instead, the Ukrainian army showed an objectively commendable resistance, which prompted the Western allies to start financing its war effort. In September 2022, the Ukrainian Armed Forces stormed through vast swaths of occupied territory, retaking the city of Kherson.
But now its army is depleted and fatigued. Western supplies take time to reach the front and cannot replace Ukrainian human and material losses.
At least for the foreseeable future, even if negotiations fail, Ukraine appears to have little chance of reconquering the lost territory.
Is Russia losing?
So, if Ukraine is losing, Russia is winning, right? Indeed, Russia has now a larger territory than before the war, but that does not mean it’s winning.
First of all, the conquered territory has literally no material value for Russia. It’s populated by hostile foreigners who feel stripped from their homeland, it’s devastated by war, and is easily in range of Ukraine’s missiles.
Strategically, the conquered territory serves to connect mainland Russia with Crimea. However, the price Russia paid for this meager prize is immense.
NATO, Russia’s main strategic enemy, was internally divided before the war, and now is stronger than ever. The inclusion of Finland into the alliance now means NATO is a stone-throw away from Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. Was the Crimean landbridge worth having NATO missiles on Russia’s most important border?
Furthermore, the Ukraine war firmly placed Russia in the second-tier powers. The Russian economy is mainly driven by fossil fuel exports, which the West halted after the war’s outbreak.
The Western market was replaced by China, which serves as a testament to the failure of Western sanctions. However, it also corners Russia as a Chinese vassal state. If, for any reason, China decided to stop importing Russian oil, at that point Moscow’s economy would surely, unreservedly collapse.
Before the war, China imported most of its oil from Middle Eastern countries. Russian oil and gas are a convenient means of diversification for China, but hardly a necessity. On the contrary, Chinese oil imports are a vital necessity for Russia, which will agree to many concessions to keep them.
And it was hardly worth conquering the Donbas.