The war in Ukraine grinds itself to a very difficult and unfathomable/open ended conclusion. This war of attrition is going to an end due to the exhaustion of human and military resources and, specifically, lack of manpower for Ukraine and lack of military resources in the case of Russia.
This was visible from the very beginning of the war, if we consider that Ukraine has about 44 million people, whereas Russia has 144 million, that is 3 times the size of the Ukrainian population.
Ukraine withstood Russia’s assault thanks to its will to survive and heroism, besides the substantial Western military help in weapons, intelligence and military assistance, but now a different tactical approach and the sheer force of numbers are taking their toll on the Ukrainian resistance and resilience of army and civil society. On the other hand, Russian society on the whole and above all Russian military is showing some tiredness and psychological fatigue about the unabated fighting in Ukraine, with some Russian soldiers deciding to desert the Russian Army.
All this notwithstanding, until Putin retains a firm grip on the Army, the security services and is keeping the Russian economy afloat, despite the hard biting Western sanctions; thus, the war will grind on until the self-imposed Russian military goals, (but not the improbable political goals) are reached and the Ukrainians realise that they have reached the limit in their counteroffensive capabilities.
While combats may hopefully be over within the summer, the situation on the field leaves at least two thorny open-ended questions:
how much of the conquered Ukrainian territories on the Black Sea’s northern coast will be de facto left to Russia above all by Ukraine and in general by the “international community”? The international community will certainly show some strong cleavages about a very sensitive issue concerning international law, because annexation, recognition of independence and occupations are clearly illegal, but Moscow will insist on a recognition for Crimea by Kiev at the very least. The whole affair is tinged by the political element of the shift of power from the West and its binding norms to the rising East, complicating the negotiations.
Will the referendums held in these new conquered territories be consistent with international standards? Some serious doubts may arise, considering the Crimean experience. On this issue most probably, a decoupling may happen within the international community between international law and political interests. The persisting occupation of the northern Black Sea’s coast by Russia will be a substantial breach of international law. Moreover, it will severely limit Ukraine’s commercial ties with Africa and the Middle East, seriously damaging its export and curtailing revenues, even if the important port of Odesa will remain in Ukrainian hands.