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After months of war, a burning question: How could it end?


Daniel, right, a sixteen-year-old Ukrainian, receives instruction on weapons handling and other combat skills during a training event for volunteers joining the Territorial Defense Forces in Lviv, Ukraine, on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

By Anton Troianovski


How does this end?


As the war rages on in Ukraine’s east, in an expanding crucible of devastation and human tragedy, the global conversation is increasingly focusing on how the fighting could end and how to define victory — and for whom.


Potential answers to that question have come from Ukrainian officials, some of whom have pledged to keep fighting until all of their country is liberated from Russian troops, and from Eastern European leaders, who have dismissed the idea of a negotiated end to the war as dangerous.


Other voices in the West, led by President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, are suggesting that some kind of territorial compromise between Ukraine and Russia is needed to end the fighting more quickly.


Henry Kissinger, a 98-year-old former secretary of state, laid out that position bluntly in a video appearance in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday, saying that Ukraine would have to cede territory in exchange for peace.


He argued that Ukraine should agree to giving up the Crimean Peninsula that Russia seized in 2014 and parts of the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas.


That idea has drawn fierce criticism from many Ukrainians, including from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who on Thursday compared Kissinger’s proposal to Western Europe’s appeasement of Nazi Germany in the Munich Agreement of 1938.


But Zelenskyy has also said that he hoped to end the war at the negotiating table after reestablishing Ukrainian control up to the Feb. 24 boundaries.


He has insisted that his troops will keep fighting at least until they are able to retake the swaths of southern and eastern Ukraine that Russia has captured in the last three months.


The status of the territory that Russia held before Feb. 24, he said in a television interview last week, ought to be hammered out at the negotiating table. Trying to retake it by force, he warned, could cost tens of thousands of lives.


“I believe that reaching the line that was before Feb. 24 without unnecessary losses would be a victory for our state today,” he said. “The war is very complicated, and victory will be very complicated. It will be bloody, it will definitely come in battle, but the ending will definitely come in diplomacy.”


Some Ukrainian officials have said their country should fight until all of its territory, including the Crimean Peninsula, is liberated from Russian occupation.


Central and Eastern European leaders have supported that goal, with Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins of Latvia declaring this week that “the only solution to this war is Ukraine’s victory and Russia’s defeat.”


Looming over the debate is the biggest unknown: whether President Vladimir Putin of Russia would be willing to accept anything other than total capitulation by Ukrainian forces.


Russian occupation authorities in eastern and southern Ukraine have signaled that the Kremlin plans to take long-term control of captured land.


For now, despite all the proposals for how to end the war, there are no peace talks to bring it about.

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