Washington Watch: ‘The war is likely to drag on’: Early observations on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine


Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine is the first European war in an era of social media and 24-hour news cycle. But somehow the fog of war seems almost deeper. Add to that, financial markets seem to flinch on the barest thread of information.

Experts from the left-leaning Center for a New American Security held a seminar in Washington on Friday trying to answer the questions everyone is asking.

How’s it going…

Russian troops seem to have tried at the start to head for the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, hoping to decapitate the government. The Russian army is not using nearly as much firepower as might be expected. This strategy was optimistic and does not seemed to have worked, and Russia is going to have to adjust. “It’s very clear that we’re settling in for a lot of heavy fighting and a war that’s likely going to drag on,” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russia studies program at CNA. The big picture doesn’t look good for the Ukrainian military. The big question is whether insurgency will form in the big cities, where urban warfare can level the playing field.

How serious are the protests?

Protests took place in 62 cities in Russia, a much larger turnout than expected, said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, director of the transatlantic security program at CNA. There were over 1,000 arrests. The unprovoked war might trigger a sense of injustice that could spread opposition, she said. So it is something to watch. The elite are not likely to turn against Putin, she added. “Putin has so tied the fate of all of these individuals to him that I think they dare not defect,” she said.

What are the prospects of negotiations?

Markets were heartened on Friday by talk of potential negotiations between the two sides. The experts said there was less there than met the eye. “I don’t think the prospects [for negotiations] are particularly good,” said Jeffrey Edmonds, a senior research scientist at CNA.

How it can end…

The endgame is very hard to understand because the only person who seems to know the answer is Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kendall-Taylor said it is plausible that there will be a long-term partition of Ukraine. She said that Putin might be “playing for keeps” and become a “gatherer of the land” like czars of old, annexing large swaths of Belarus and Ukraine.

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