On Feb. 24, President Vladimir Putin authorized a special military operation in Donbass in response to the fundamental threats posed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its eastward expansion. One hundred days into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the deadly crisis with global repercussions still shows no sign of easing off.
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The global community has since been closely monitoring how the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues to remodel the global economy, energy landscape as well as diplomatic and military ties. Russian officials have repeatedly stressed that the special military operation would continue until all its objectives are met, while Ukraine has vowed to "fight till the end."
In this context, the West's ever-increasing military aid to Ukraine and unprecedented pressure on Moscow have strongly exacerbated the situation, and created barriers to future peace talks. With both Russia and Ukraine adhering to different negotiation positions, the prospect of peace remains elusive.
CHANGES ON THE GROUND
Following the end of the battle in Mariupol, with Russia taking control of the Azovstal steel plant and the city, both sides shifted their military focus to the northeastern part of the Donetsk region, and the western part of the Lugansk region.
The current military action is centered around two strategically important cities in the Lugansk region, namely Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The Ukrainian side has confirmed that heavy fighting continued in Severodonetsk. The head of the Lugansk regional military administration Sergei Haidai recently said that Russia was gaining control of most of the city, while Ukrainian forces were still showing resistance.
During his visit to the frontline in Kharkiv region on May 29, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his troops were facing an extremely difficult situation. Nevertheless, he vows his country would "defend its land till the very end" and "would fight and definitely win."
In a more recent address to the Luxembourg parliament on Thursday, Zelensky said that Russian forces controlled around 20 percent of Ukrainian territory. Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed that Moscow's military operation would continue despite Western pressure and increased Western assistance to Kiev.
Russian military expert Aleksei Leonkov believes that the Ukrainian army has already suffered defeat in the battle for Donbass and that Kiev's efforts on the battlefield have not led to any tangible results.
According to Igar Tyskevich, an analyst at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, Russia's full control of the Donbass region would not be feasible in the short term, and that it would be difficult to predict how long this conflict would last.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE PEACE TALKS AT A STANDSTILL
While there are noticeable developments on the battlefield, the same cannot be said about the current state of the negotiation process between Russia and Ukraine. The prospect of peace remains bleak, as talks were put on hold following a controversial incident in Bucha in April.
Russian officials said that Moscow was willing to continue diplomatic talks, despite Ukraine's constant urge to deviate from previous agreements. After sending draft proposals to Kiev in April, Russia said the "ball was now in Ukraine's court."
Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Zelensky said that Russian forces must return to positions held before the start of the conflict for diplomatic talks to continue. Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said such conditions were "impossible in principle."
World leaders have nonetheless continued to pursue mediation efforts. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have held multiple telephone conversations with Putin to discuss the Ukrainian crisis and the peace talks.
Turkey, which has expressed its desire to play a mediating role in the conflict and has already hosted a round of Russia-Ukraine talks, recently expressed readiness to host a new round of negotiations.
Nevertheless, none of the current efforts have led to a successful revival of the talks because of stark differences in the negotiation positions of both sides. Russia has already begun strengthening its presence in southern and eastern Ukraine, including simplifying the procedures for residents in the Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions in southern Ukraine to apply for Russian citizenship.
Some Russian analysts agree that it is pointless to continue negotiations with Zelensky on key political matters. Alexander Perendzhiev, a Russian political and military analyst, has said that Zelensky is merely a puppet of the West, and the West itself is not ready for serious negotiations.
Tyskevich, the analyst at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, believes the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has escalated into a "long-term war" and the "active phase" may last for several months or even longer, and the next key step would be to discuss the necessary conditions for a ceasefire agreement. However, even if a truce is reached, it would be very fragile.
Instead of promoting peace talks and a rapid end to the conflict, the United States and its Western allies have continued to exert pressure on Russia, ramp up sanctions, and provide military assistance to Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that the United States would supply Ukraine with advanced rocket systems that Kiev had requested.The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has also announced recently that the country was receiving Harpoon anti-ship missile systems from Denmark, Britain, and the Netherlands to defend itself in the Black Sea, while other countries will also supply defense equipment in the near future.
In a bid to contain Russia even further, European Union leaders have recently agreed to ban "more than two thirds" of Russian oil imports to the bloc, as they adopted their sixth package of sanctions against Russia.
The Kremlin has repeatedly stressed that by supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine, the United States was deliberately "adding fuel to the fire" and hindering a potential resumption of peace talks.
In recent telephone conversations with European leaders, Putin pointed out that the supply of weapons would further destabilize the situation and worsen the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Russian political scientist Karine Gevorgyan noted that by providing Ukraine with an unlimited supply of weapons, the West risks depleting its own arsenals.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that the West is fighting a proxy war against Russia, using Ukraine as the battlefield. If the West finally recovers from its "anti-Russian frenzy" and decides it wants to restore relations, Moscow would seriously consider whether or not it needs to re-establish these ties, said Lavrov.