From the moment that Vladimir Putin announced the mobilisation, and quasi conscription, of 300,000 new Russian troops after losing thousands of square miles of territory around Kharkiv, it was abundantly clear that the Russian Bear was mortally wounded. The Russian army, who have been viewed as a serious threat to European security for years, is a spent force.
Diplomatically, Putin has become ever more isolated – even more sympathetic countries are starting to grow impatient. Presidents Xi (China) and Erdogan (Turkey) have both made remarkably candid comments on the War in Ukraine. Of course, particularly in the Chinese case, this makes perfect sense, given Europe is an important export market.
However, although the Russian army is certainly in a weak position, it is not an impossible one. Meanwhile, risks remain for Ukraine and its allies. Peace should be pushed for as a matter of urgency.
Even though NATO have been supplying Ukraine with weapons for many months, the Russians still have, amongst other things, scores of much more powerful artillery. This is before one considers the harsh Ukrainian winter that will undoubtedly slow any potential advance that the Ukrainians will make.
Equally, as shown by the takeover of the Eastern Donbas by pro-Russian Separatists in 2014, there is sizable pro-Russian sentiment there. This was an area of the country that was seen to be looked down on by Ukrainians, specifically due to the prevenance of Russian and language, as well as a lack of economic development. To that end, risking nuclear war over an expanse of territory, a good part of whose population desires to secede to Russia, seems utterly fruitless. This is only compounded by the fact that the war is causing immense hardship on the rest of Europe.
Similarly, Putin needs to be able to present Russians with a viable reason for why their campaign could be seen as successful. If he cannot provide this, not only does regime change become more likely – and in the chaos that follows, the threat of nuclear war – but also of war continuing; Putin will become ever more desperate to strike a breakthrough. Indeed, the use of tactical nuclear warheads now seems more likely, particularly as they can reap devastation without broadening the scope of the war beyond Ukrainian borders.
Peace is very achievable. NATO, with the golden ticket of access into the EU, can exert pressure on Kyiv to give up limited territory. To stop the threat of Putin using his nuclear option, NATO must ensure that Putin has some pride to take home.