At the G7 summit in Elmau, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for efforts to end the war in his country by the end of the year. But is that realistic? How does that work?

“Winter is coming!” Anyone who knows the fantasy television series “Game of Thrones” knows that this sentence bodes ill. In real life, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is particularly terrified of the coming cold season. The president is convinced that having to continue waging war in his country under the harsh winter conditions will demand a lot from Ukraine, possibly too much.

At the G7 summit in Elmau, to which Zelenskyj was connected via video, he attracted attention by demanding that the war be ended by the end of the year. In order to prevent fighting in the country’s harsh winter, he is said to have demanded an effort from the heads of state and government of the rich G7 countries. They assured Zelenskyy that they would support Ukraine in the conflict with Russia “as long as it is necessary”. It doesn’t sound like Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz and Co. believe that the war will end this year.

Masala: Ukraine can’t hold the Donbass

Even experts are skeptical. “I’m assuming that we won’t see the end of the war this year,” former NATO general Egon Ramms recently told ZDF. It will take at least six months or even longer before the hostilities finally end. The point in time depends on the support provided by the West.

But what this support looks like in concrete terms is unclear, despite the protestations of the Elmau G7, emphasized military expert Carlos Masala in the stern podcast “Ukraine – the situation”. But one thing is clear: “The Ukrainians will not be able to hold their positions in the Donbass with the equipment they have now.” Gradually, the superior Russian forces are about to take over the entire area.

Armistice possible after taking Donbass

The full capture of the Donbass, however, could be a milestone that at least opens the door to a ceasefire. This is the assessment Christian Mölling and András Rácz from the German Society for Foreign Relations (DGAP) come to. The Russian army has already taken large parts of the Donbass and will probably fight until the entire region is taken. “After that, however, the Russian army will be exhausted. Any further strategic offensive, including against Odessa, is out of the question. Therefore, after the end of the battle for the Donbass, it will also be in Moscow’s interest to strive for a form of de-escalation,” say the two experts Celebration.

“This will be the time when a ceasefire can be reached,” Mölling and Rácz continued. The Russian troops have already fought their way to Lysychansk, the last major city in the Luhansk Oblast that has not yet been conquered. Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region is also increasingly under fire. If both cities fall, the Donbass will be almost entirely in Russian hands. Then it will become clear how willing Vladimir Putin is to keep the guns silent (for the time being). In view of the news from the front, the capture of the region should be reported within the next few weeks – well before the end of the year. If the ceasefire comes about, it will largely cement the territorial distribution that has been achieved up to that point, the DGAP experts predict. “Although Ukraine cannot acknowledge the loss of territories, a temporary freeze could still be realistic.”

Scholz: The end of the war is not in sight

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), on the other hand, currently sees little chance of a diplomatic end to the Ukraine war. “Unfortunately, it can be observed that Russia is continuing the war with unchanged brutality,” Scholz said at the end of the G7 summit. “So we’re not in a situation where you can see the end.” It is only foreseeable that “at some point” there will be an agreement between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine – “but that is not the case at the moment”.

At the moment it is more a question of maintaining the pressure on Russia “so that an end is possible at all and Russia realizes that it cannot enforce a dictated peace,” said Scholz. “So there will only be one way out if Putin accepts that his project will not succeed – and that is what it is about now.”

Interests of the West and Ukraine do not coincide

The West and Ukraine are pursuing very different interests, Carlo Masala notes. “Ukraine wants to liberate every city, it also wants to liberate Crimea. That’s not what the NATO countries are interested in.” The NATO states are also in favor of Russia clearing Crimea. “But only as a result of a peace agreement, not as a result of combat operations.”

It seems completely impossible that the Ukrainian troops, who have been badly battered after months of fighting, will be able to liberate all Russian-occupied areas by the end of the year – even if the West were to upgrade the army in a way that has not been seen before. The fact that Volodymyr Zelenskyj in Elmau brought up an end to the war before next winter could be an indication that, despite public slogans, he is also dealing with armistice scenarios.

Sources: AFP and DPA news agencies, ZDF, German Society for Foreign Relations