Jens Stoltenberg has said that the conflict in Ukraine will not end until Russia “lays down its weapons”.
The West must prepare for “a long war” in Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared on Sunday. Despite claiming to want a “quick peace” in Ukraine, Stoltenberg insisted that he still supports President Vladimir Zelensky’s goal of a military victory over Russia.
“Most wars last longer than expected when they first begin,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with Germany’s Funke media group. “Therefore we must prepare ourselves for a long war in Ukraine.”
According to media reports over the last two months, Western officials and military planners have conceded that Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive against Russian forces is unlikely to succeed, leaving the front lines mostly unchanged as winter sets in.
According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukraine has lost upwards of 71,000 men since the counteroffensive began in June. Despite this stark attrition rate – with some units losing 90% of their manpower, according to Ukrainian sources, Stoltenberg insisted that NATO will continue to push for a military, not a diplomatic, solution.
“We are all wishing for a quick peace,” Stoltenberg said. “But at the same time we must recognise: if President Zelensky and the Ukrainians stop fighting, their country will no longer exist. If President Putin and Russia lay down their weapons, we will have peace.”
After walking away from a Turkish-brokered peace deal last April, Zelensky issued a decree forbidding all negotiations with Russia. Furthermore, he has repeatedly vowed to retake the former Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, and Zaporozhye, as well as Crimea, the latter of which voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian Federation in 2014.
Zelensky’s stance is backed by Washington, where officials have repeatedly insisted that only the Ukrainian president can decide when to seek peace. At the same time, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has condemned Putin for supposedly rejecting “meaningful diplomacy.”
Russia maintains that it is open to a diplomatic solution to the conflict, but that any peace deal would have to take into account the “new territorial reality” – that Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, Zaporozhye, and Crimea will never be ceded back to Ukraine. Furthermore, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said negotiations would be held “not with Zelensky, who is a puppet in the hands of the West, but directly with his masters.”
Image credit: Marek Studzinski