Putin is not giving up on the war in Ukraine despite the grim circumstances facing Russian forces.
War experts say Ukraine has three choices moving forward, but immediate peace talks aren't on the table.
The best option is for Ukraine to "launch successive counter-offensive operations," ISW said.
After just over a year of fighting, the war in Ukraine is stalemated. Both sides have seen heavy losses, but the war has gone especially poorly for Russia as it's suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks on the battlefield and failed to accomplish its broader aims. That said, Russian President Vladimir Putin is showing no signs of giving up as his forces continue to push for gains in the eastern cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
A new assessment from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggests Ukraine has three fairly straightforward choices in the face of such obstinance — and immediate peace talks are not among them.
"This would be an appropriate moment for Putin to conclude that Russia cannot impose its will on Ukraine by force and that he must seek a compromise settlement. He has clearly come to no such conclusion, however," ISW said.
In this context, one option for Ukraine is to stop fighting, even as Russia continues ground and air attacks, which ISW said almost no one is pushing for and would "lead to disastrous defeat." The second potential approach is for Ukrainian forces to continue fighting in a "very constrained way," with the goal of holding on to the territory they currently control. But this would "encourage Putin to continue his efforts to pursue outright military victory."
The third option is for Ukraine to "launch successive counter-offensive operations with the twin aims of persuading Putin to accept a negotiated compromise or of creating military realities sufficiently favorable to Ukraine that Kyiv and its Western allies can then effectively freeze the conflict on their own regardless of Putin's decisions."
Ukraine has continued to defend Bakhmut, which has seen the fiercest fighting in the war in recent months, though analysts say the city has little strategic significance. Some military experts have argued Kyiv's manpower and resources should not be further spent on Bakhmut, and instead should be reserved for a counteroffensive.
ISW's assessment suggests that Ukraine needs multiple major operational victories to create the possibility for negotiations or for Putin to "accept unfavorable military realities absent a formal settlement."
Some analysts have expressed concern that even if Kyiv and Moscow reached a negotiated settlement that led to a cessation in hostilities, Russia would simply use this as an opportunity to regroup and resume its push for the total subjugation of Ukraine later on. Accordingly, ISW says Ukraine will need to retake terrain that's vital to its survival both militarily and economically, and that would be key to "renewed Russian offensives."
Though Kyiv has repeatedly said it would not agree to any terms that required it to cede territory to Russia, ISW said there is "likely is a line short of the full restoration of Ukrainian control over all of occupied Ukrainian territory that could be the basis for a protracted cessation of hostilities on terms acceptable to Ukraine and the West," going on to emphasize that that this line is "not close to where the current front lines stand."
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