Ukraine is still standing.
That may be a surprise to Russia as its invasion grinds toward a third destructive week. Not only has it seemingly underestimated its neighbor’s resolve, but now its ability to wage — let alone win — a prolonged conflict has come into question.
Between the stiffer-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, Russia’s early military woes and the expansive penalties that have roiled Moscow’s economy, could President Vladimir Putin look for an early offramp to end the war?
Ukrainian officials and Russia experts did not express much optimism.
“Maybe there’s more happening there than meets the eye, but the Kremlin has gone all in on this invasion — a major war of a kind Russia has not fought since 1945,” said Michael Kimmage, who joined the State Department in 2014 to focus on Ukraine-Russia issues and is now chair of the history department at the Catholic University of America.
“Putin has bet his presidency on this venture, so either he will get major concessions from the Ukrainians or just keep on fighting,” Kimmage said.
Experts said Putin entered the conflict with some very clear political goals: push back against NATO, topple the Ukrainian government and install a new regime more sympathetic to the Kremlin.
To do that, Russia hoped to move in with a swift military victory before the West could react. Now that it has become a protracted fight, Moscow appears to be retooling its efforts: The quick-moving ground offensive is turning into a devastating aerial assault.
“It is now an air war,” said Oleksandr Danylyuk, the former secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council who is now helping organize the territorial defense on the front lines in Kyiv.
“If they wanted to take over Ukraine, they know now they cannot manage it,” he added over the phone. “When I look at their behavior, they don’t care about this at all. They cannot occupy this country, so now they will try to destroy it.”