Key to solving Russia-Ukraine conflict lies in hands of US and EU
Published: Dec 20, 2022 08:21 PM
Black smoke rises over Ukraine's capital Kiev on October 10, 2022. Photo: VCG

Black smoke rises over Ukraine's capital Kiev on October 10, 2022. Photo: VCG


Editor's Note: 
The 2023 Global Times Annual Conference themed on "China and the World after the 20th CPC National Congress" was held in Beijing on Saturday. To understand the importance of China's stability to the changing world and explore what China should do to better grasp opportunities amid challenges in 2023, the Conference focused on four topics including China-US coexistence, cross-Straits reunification, Russia-Ukraine conflict and prospects of China's economy. The following contains the excerpts of participating experts' views on how the Russia-Ukraine conflict will end. 

Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University
The Russia-Ukraine conflict at this stage can be characterized by two features: each side's will to fight is still very strong, and there is no sufficient will to negotiate.
Judging from the current conditions, the conflict could end in two ways. The first is Russia and Ukraine will keep fighting while negotiating. Both sides will continue to engage in real battles, while talks are ultimately just posturing. 
The second possible ending is there will be a truce, but no actual peace treaty will be made. Both sides will have no strength to fight further at a certain stage, so there will be a de facto or military ceasefire line. But Russia and Ukraine will not reach a formal peace agreement due to the two's varying positions.
Looking further ahead, 2024 will be a critical point, a year when Russia and the US have a presidential election. These political factors will determine a clearer solution to the Ukraine issue. Therefore, I think that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to remain in a situation without a clear solution until 2024.
Finally, it is clear that each party will have to adjust its own goals. This is the only way that they can have a way out. For instance, Russia's fundamental goal is to keep Ukraine out of NATO. 

Zhu Feng, director of the Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University
The Russia-Ukraine conflict will inevitably be prolonged, and the prolongation will bring three major uncertainties.
First, if Russian missiles fall into NATO countries, will it trigger NATO's collective defense mechanism, making the Russia-Ukraine conflict further expand into a direct military confrontation between Russia and NATO members?
Second, will a prolonged conflict bring about an accident similar to the Chernobyl incident at the three nuclear power plants operating in Ukraine? What will it really mean for Ukraine and Europe if a new nuclear fallout and contamination occurs?
Third, if the US and West ramp up military assistance to Ukraine in the ongoing conflict, making it difficult for Russia to continue fighting effectively, will this actually force Moscow to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend itself? 
By its nature, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is a very typical proxy war between major powers. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, relations between the great powers eased, and the world entered the era of globalization. And the Russia-Ukraine conflict meant the return of great power confrontation and hot war conflict. It is clear to everyone that the real battle, in the end, is between Russia and the US. From this perspective, the prolongation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict may make the world truly enter a post-post-Cold War era, and its impact on the overall world political and economic situation will be even greater.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict tells us, to a large extent, how interdependence between China and the US, which has gradually developed since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and China's reform and opening-up, will change with the comprehensive strategic suppression and fierce competition policy implemented by the US against China today. I believe that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has important inspiration for China-US relations and for China's future great power diplomacy.

Zhou Li, former vice minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee
The key to solving the crisis lies in the hands of the US and EU. The US and EU have not made substantial efforts to ease the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and have even moved in the opposite direction by continually providing weapons and ammunition. Right now, we must be vigilant against a protracted and expanded conflict between Russia and Ukraine. If the trend continues, it will have a huge impact and bring losses not only to Ukraine, Russia, and the whole of Europe, but also the whole world.
In terms of the use of nuclear weapons, it should be noticed that Russia's remarks such as putting nuclear forces into "special combat readiness" or using "all the means at our disposal to protect Russia" are a response to the provocations of the US, notably the NATO. Once the situation on the battlefield is stable, NATO will stir up trouble once again, inciting and forcing Russia to make more serious statements in this regard, which will turn the situation more complicated. 
However, judging from the latest statements of both Russia President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia is very restrained on this issue. Russia is clearly aware the consequence of a nuclear war. It can be seen that all parties are attempting to avoid a nuclear war.

Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University of China
The critical factor determining the future course of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the strategic patterns of the war. Russia's strategy is to use continuous large-scale bombing and missile attacks as means, while the Ukrainian army and local residents are carrying out counterattacks with the assistance of the West. 

Outside Ukraine, in the face of the threat of expanding conflicts and escalating wars, the US and Europe are maximizing economic and financial sanctions on Russia and strengthen NATO's war preparations. Right now, support by the US and Europe for the Ukrainian army is weakening, and its counteroffensive momentum has been remarkably impaired. Russia is accumulating strength and preparing for a new offensive, and new dangers loom in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The US and NATO have further upgraded their arms assistance to Ukraine. And Russia will continue to maintain its combat capabilities as much as possible in terms of its war capabilities. What is unpredictable is politics. For example, whether the conflict will expand beyond Ukraine. Russia is expected to weigh it carefully. Although Russia has repeatedly sent warnings, there is still no sign of the use of nuclear weapons on the Ukrainian battlefield. 

Wu Dahui, deputy dean of the Russian Institute of Tsinghua University

At present, the negotiation goals of Russia and Ukraine don't overlap. Even if Russia and Ukraine started negotiations at this stage, I think it is more like halting the conflict to reorganize the army and later look for opportunities to fight again.
In the future, once both sides do not want to drag on the war and the room for security between Russia and the US deteriorates, the use of tactical nuclear weapons is likely to be a "gray swan event."
I believe that the goal sought by the West and Ukraine is to achieve "armed neutrality" in Ukraine. If the conflict reaches a stalemate and neither side can rout the other, then NATO will agree to arm Ukraine despite not accepting it as a NATO member. In the future, NATO can provide security guarantees to Ukraine if the latter is in danger, which is based on this "armed neutrality" principle in the first place.
Another solution would be for major powers or key international organizations to provide security guarantees for Ukraine, including from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, or by revising the Budapest Memorandum signed in December 1994. These are all directions in which diplomatic channels could work in the future.

Zhang Shuhua, director of the Institute of Political Sciences, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
I would like to talk about the Russia-Ukraine conflict from the perspective of the development of world politics, especially the changes in political thought and structure after the Cold War. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is still a continuation of the post-Cold War order. In particular, the Western camp led by the US, holding a Cold War mentality and bloc based thinking, has been using their own hegemony to suppress other countries, utilizing so-called "democracy and freedom" as a pretext for expansion so as to maintain economic and international dominance under the US system.
For Russia, the more important conflicts are in politics, diplomacy, and changes in relations among nations. The world's political ecology has deteriorated further. First, the moral and professional standards of Western politicians have declined sharply; second, the division and confrontation of international political values have become more obvious and intense. The Russian political elite regards the Russia-Ukraine conflict as a dispute over civilizations, political values, and world order. They believe that Western values and models are going downhill, but Russia can't come up with an attractive economic model, development model, or political model that can replace them. Therefore, the form now is to fight back.
The focus of the future world should not only be on the Russia-Ukraine conflict but also on economic development of the world powers. Can the development model meet the challenges, respond to the world's changes and chaos, and propose development solutions that are consistent with the direction of development of all human civilizations and acceptable to the world in order to answer the world's questions today.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies
Now the world is concerned that if the Russia-Ukraine conflict is caught in a continuous process of mutual attrition on the battlefield, will there be some kind of sudden, even decisive change? For example, will the West provide more advanced weapons to Ukraine, thus giving them an advantage on the battlefield? At the same time, will Russia expand its input of troops and resources? Is the situation under control next time?
In terms of the outlook of the war, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is a conventional war, but its impact or the time and place of its outbreak may be thought-provoking to the international community. After the end of the Cold War, local conflicts around the world have never stopped, but why did the Russia-Ukraine conflict cause shocks and involve so many major powers? Is the Russia-Ukraine conflict the beginning of an ongoing, long-term, dramatic change, or just a short-term, manageable one? This question is directly related to the end of the post-Cold War era and the beginning of the post post-Cold War era.

Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China
From a geopolitical point of view, the US and Europe have been trying to win over some of Russia's former sphere of influence. Some countries in Central and Eastern Europe have joined NATO and the EU, while Russia's strategic space is constantly being squeezed. To weaken Russia, the West corners Russia to commit acts of war and then sanctions it at the limit.
For the US, it is important not only to weaken Russia but also to weaken the interconnection of Eurasia and maintain US strategic control here. In addition, the US military industrial complex, energy groups, financial groups, and digital oligarchs are pursuing maximum profit. As long as the huge war dividends are not squeezed out, the US will not let the conflict stop.
When the Russia-Ukraine conflict ends depends on how far the US reaches in the process of restructuring the global supply chain and industrial chain through the conflict. The US needs such a conflict, in addition to coercing Europe into the arms of Washington, sanctioning Russia, supporting Ukraine, and more importantly, restructuring the global supply chain, which is a relatively long-term process. Therefore, these factors combined may determine the ultimate direction of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the way it will end.