How could the war in Ukraine end?

Experts predict how Vladimir Putin's invasion could reach its "off-ramp" as fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces continues.

The war in Ukraine is entering its second week.

It's clear from the perspective of defence experts and intelligence updates from the likes of the UK Ministry of Defence, Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion is not advancing as smoothly as he had initially hoped.

A 40-mile convoy of Russian vehicles situated outside Kyiv has made little progress, while the tactics deployed by Ukrainian forces using handheld weapon systems, such as British-supplied next-generation light anti-armour weapons (NLAWs), have been significant.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed British MPs in a historic first, bookended by standing ovations, an action considered rare in Westminster

But how might the invasion progress from here, and what are the possible routes to an end-game for Putin, described by defence experts as the 'off-ramp'?

Forces News spoke to four experts on the possible end scenarios for Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the world.

A blown-off tank turret lies on the ground outside Kharkiv, north-east Ukraine, days after Russia launched its invasion
A blown-off tank turret lies on the ground outside Kharkiv, north-east Ukraine, days after Russia launched its invasion (Picture: Ukrinform/Alamy Live News).

The Russians' willingness to fight

Colonel Tim Collins, famed for his 2003 inspiring address to troops on the eve of battle in Iraq, said that he believes dissent within the ranks of the Russian military will be Putin's downfall.

Col Collins, a retired former commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, said that Mr Putin was "dependent on his military", adding that "at some point, his military will decide they have had enough".

The former military man said: "When it gets to the point when there's nothing to eat in the shops in Moscow. When the lights are going out because there isn't enough money to keep things going.

"When there's a run on the bank, and normal people simply can't get cash to buy food.

"They've got lots of gas, they've got lots of petrol. But the ruble is now worth less than a US cent – and it's going south of that – so he's paying his soldiers, heavily demoralised soldiers, even if he is paying them already, he's paying them in pennies to die for a war that wasn't their choosing.

"At that point, I think some of the great Russian patriot leaders in the military will stand up and say: 'Enough'."

Watch: Russia's 'march by fire' military tactic bombarding Ukraine.

How might it all end?

Dr Afsal Ashraf, an international relations expert, predicted that whatever the outcome "if it goes on beyond a few more weeks, I don't think it will end well for anybody".

Meanwhile, Dr Jamie Shea, former Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO, drew attention to the unplanned developments Mr Putin is already facing, saying that "wars go in directions people who perpetrate them haven't planned".

"We seem to be set for quite a long clash in Ukraine," he said. "The Ukrainians are not going to give up; they're going to resort to civil disobedience if they're occupied; they're going to keep up the insurrection.

"They want to give the Russians a bloody nose.

"Does Putin want to control all of Ukraine incorporated into Russia? Even if he has that political objective, does he have the military forces?" he added.

The image of a Russian military not performing at its expected capability was echoed by another expert, Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former commanding officer of the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment and NATO's Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion.

He said that Putin's forces are "not performing as he expected", adding: "Just looking at what we've seen so far, this is not the blitzkrieg Red Russian Army that we've all been led to believe would steam across and take Ukraine in a couple of days."

Dr Shea pointed to the fact that, unlike Syria or Chechnya, the "Russians don't have a lot of local quisling proxy forces to do their dirty work for them", which according to the former NATO official, will "exact economically, socially an enormous toll on Russia".

Watch: Is a risk free no-fly zone over Ukraine possible?

What's the worst outcome?

The experts offered ideas and thoughts about the worst outcome for all sides involved.

Col de Bretton-Gordon said he still held out for hope for a diplomatic solution, saying that Mr Putin "has made lots of miscalculations".

He added: "Let's hope that will bring him to the negotiating table, and we can sort some sort of peace out rather than letting it unfold into some dreadful fight for Kyiv and the other cities, with thousands and thousands of civilian casualties."

Dr Shea urged the West to look at what the possible outcomes are likely to be, saying: "None of them are particularly good.

"But we need to look at that and try to decide what is at least, from a Western and Ukrainian point of view, the least bad outcome, and to save as much of independent Ukraine, even if it's in the west rather than the east, as we possibly can".

Dr Ashraf, however, offered a grim potential outcome based on the economic and political sanctions, many already in place, saying "the worst scenario is if the sanctions do work".

He continued: "Because if the sanctions do work, President Putin is faced with an existential threat, and every time a nuclear power has been faced with an existential threat, and we know this from the way President Kennedy behaved, they will use nuclear weapons."

Dr Shea was equal in his concerns about Russia's nuclear weapon capabilities.

He said that one of the tricky questions Western diplomats had to face was "do we really box Putin into a corner and try as much as possible to weaken him, or even bring about, if we could, some kind of change of government in Russia?"

He added: "Or given that Putin might start doing very desperate things, all of this talk of nuclear weapons, do we still try to offer him some sort of face-saving climbdown?

"But of course, the more the war goes on, the more he's isolated, the more he's a war criminal, the harder it's going to be both morally as well as politically to find that off-ramp for him."

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