A number of battlefield factors led to the unmitigated disaster of the Ukrainian offensive, and most were entirely predictable. Despite the fanfare surrounding the Leopard and Challenger tanks, along with a host of other armored platforms transferred to Ukraine, many analysts were apprehensive. After all, if this war could be won by armored warfare, the Russians would have done so by now. They never lacked for tanks, and they also had the benefit of better air cover for their maneuvers than the Ukrainians could ever hope for (and F16s would do nothing to change that). An element of surprise is essential when considering an offensive against a peer adversary, but Ukraine had none of that. Russian analysts began discussing how the Ukrainian offensive might go in early spring. Kiev's troops would raid inside Russia, they speculated, then launch a feint toward Bakhmut and finally use their main forces to strike south at Zaporizhzhya, hoping to cut the Russian land bridge to Crimea. This is exactly what the Ukrainians ended up doing, as they were left with no other rational option. They rushed headlong into the defensive lines of a Russian army that knew their every move in advance. The result is as tragic as it was predictable.
And indeed, it was predicted. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was criticized by the gung-ho hardliners for warning, just hours before Ukraine's big push south began, that a ceasefire was needed because the offensive would "end in a bloodbath". Now perhaps we can all agree that early June would have been a better time for Ukraine to be talking peace with Russia than now, when their military is a spent force and they are no longer a credible threat, at least offensively. They have lost tens of thousands of men, much of the high-tech Western equipment they were given, with nothing to show for it.
However, the fact increasingly recognized in the mainstream liberal press, namely that Kyiv has run out of offensive options, does not yet mean total defeat for the beleaguered nation. It is very difficult to estimate the total losses they have suffered so far, but observing the dynamics of the draft - negative as they are - indicates that the ranks of the Ukrainian army can be refilled one last time. These are not men (and, now, women) you’d want to go on the attack with, but they can dig in and hold their ground. So, Kyiv can still negotiate, and there is a reason the Kremlin for talking peace rather than opt for the bloody, protracted but now inevitable attritional warfare that could last for many more months, even a few years.
Mr. Zelensky should be under no illusions, though. The fact that he can still defend doesn't mean he can change the inescapable fact that his country is headed for defeat in the long run. The Ukrainians' bargaining position will decline along with the state of the last ragtag army they could field. However reluctantly, Mr. Zelensky will have to talk, sooner rather than later, or get out of the way and let someone else do it.
Otherwise, his people and soldiers will ultimately prefer a horrible end to endless horror.
The author is a geopolitical analyst at the Center for Fundamental Rights (Alapjogokért Központ)
The west is losing the respect of the rest of the world, warns Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow at the National University of Singapore and former President of the UN Security Council, in an op-ed published by the Financial Times.