Editor’s Note: Fareed Zakaria hosts Fareed Zakaria GPS, airing Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN. The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
One year into Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine, it has become clear that neither side is strong enough to win the war nor weak enough to sue for peace. The conflict has settled into a stalemate. After making impressive gains, Ukraine’s armed forces have not made significant advances in months. Russia meanwhile has dug into the territories it occupies, and its further attacks are having little success so far.
The numbers tell the story. According to a Washington Post analysis, Russia occupied about 7% of Ukrainian territory when it launched its invasion in February 2022. It swept into eastern Ukraine, and in a month it was holding 22% of the country. Then came Ukrainian counter-offensives, which by mid-November had taken back about a third of those gains. In the last three months, nothing significant has changed. Ukraine and Russia are both planning new moves, but it would take massive victories to fundamentally change the situation. To put it another way, Ukraine would need to recover roughly twice as much territory as it was able to last year, just to get back the lands conquered since the 2022 invasion.
Russia’s performance in the war has been poor, but it is doing better, especially at holding territory. Russia has also been able to stabilize its economy, which the IMF projects will do better this year than the UK’s or Germany’s. Russia is trading freely with such economic behemoths as China, and India, as well as neighbors like Turkey and Iran. Because of these countries and many more, outside of the advanced technology sector, it has access to all the goods and capital it lost through the Western boycott. There is now a huge world economy that does not include the West, and Russia can swim in those waters freely. The long-term costs of the war and the effects of the sanctions are real but slow. This kind of isolation and pain rarely changes a dictatorship’s policies – look at North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.