How Will the Ukraine War End? 10 Experts Weigh In

"Diplomacy is listening to what the other guy needs," the late former Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, but will talks aimed at ending Russia's invasion of Ukraine give either country's leader what he wants?

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has insisted a tete-a-tete with Vladimir Putin is the only way to end hostilities that began on February 24, but his passionate plea contrasts with the dry Kremlin position of last week that such a meeting was "conceptually possible."

The mood music from Kyiv and Moscow officials this week has been more positive, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying on Wednesday the sides were "close to an agreement," while Zelensky said Russia's demands were "more realistic."

However, Putin gave a firebrand address on Tuesday, lacking in the language of compromise, in which he said Russians "will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors."

The Kremlin has also taken umbrage at the rather undiplomatic description by President Joe Biden of Putin as a "war criminal," which will make it tricky for his administration to work with Moscow if a peace deal is struck.

Newsweek asked a number of experts whether they believed there had been genuine diplomatic progress this week and how they thought the war might end.

Most were doubtful that the present negotiations would see an end to the war, while others thought that Zelensky's admission that Kyiv would not join NATO, a key Moscow demand, is unlikely to change the situation.

Rose Gottemoeller, Ex-Deputy Secretary General of NATO

"I am glad that they seem to be moving forward, and doing it quietly—megaphone diplomacy doesn't work. I was glad to hear Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov say... that the negotiators just need a quiet place to work."

"I don't know what President Zelensky's position on the territories will be, that will be up to him and his government. What I've been saying is that it's important to remember that no matter what happens under duress, we do not need to acknowledge it.

"For the 70 years of the USSR's existence, we, the United States, never acknowledged that the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, were part of the USSR. They are now, all three, members of NATO and the EU."

Michal Baranowski, Warsaw Office Director, German Marshall Fund

"I'm very skeptical that the current round of talks will end Russia's war in Ukraine. This war has never been about Ukraine's NATO membership for Vladimir Putin. I'm concerned that from Russia's perspective the talks are meant to buy time for the Russian military to regroup."

"The talks are also a way for Russia to give the West a false hope for cease-fire and lower western motivation for further sanctions and military assistance for Ukraine."

"It's a long time before we will begin to see how this might end. Unfortunately, I worry that it will get worse before it gets better. In the end, the West and Ukraine needs to deny Russia a victory.

"This is unfortunately hard to define, but having a Ukraine that is forced to accept neutrality at the barrel of Russian gun, would indeed mean Russian victory."

David Rivera, Assistant Professor of Government, Hamilton College, Clinton (NY)

"A mere promise by President Zelensky that Ukraine will not seek NATO membership will not be sufficient to induce Russia to end its invasion.

"Putin has made clear...his ambitions regarding Ukraine go far beyond its formal neutrality and potential membership in the alliance.

"It was the possibility of Ukrainian membership in the European Union, not NATO, that led to his first major act of military aggression against Ukraine in 2014."

"In his speech on Tuesday... Putin made clear that his determination to bring Ukraine fully into Moscow's strategic, economic, and cultural orbit remains great.

"Only defeat on the battlefield or Putin's removal from power will result in the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territory."

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 11, 2022. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Getty Images

Andrew Latham, International Relations Professor, Macalester College, Saint Paul, (MN)

"Neither side is ready just yet for serious negotiations. For that to happen, given that neither is going to simply surrender, both will have to have reached the point of exhaustion at which they believe they can't 'win' and will simply have to settle."

Any deal would require "some form of neutrality for Ukraine," involving not joining neither NATO nor the EU as well as an "off-ramp for Putin that will allow him personally to avoid being tried for war-crimes and that will allow for the return of some semblance of normality in Russia."

"Zelensky has to be careful what he gives up, though. Too much and he might face the kind of backlash that [Ex-President Viktor] Yanukovych faced in 2014 when he surrendered too much to Putin.

"Putin too. He can't come out of this without at least appearing to his internal audience that Russia won."

Clifford Brown, Political Science Professor, Union College (NY)

"I am skeptical regarding progress at peace talks. Given Putin's slashing speech, I think he is beginning to come to terms with the fact that Plan A did not work, but he is not willing to admit to himself that things are moving beyond his ability to handle them.

"If he holds his own and fights Russia to a stalemate, or a partial victory, Zelensky can accept non-NATO membership and some form of 'neutrality,' but he obviously cannot give up his weapons, or ability to accept outside military hardware and intelligence assistance.

"Russia could ultimately agree to leave, but Putin would have to have something to show for Russia's massive efforts, and costs in life, equipment, and treasure.

"Territory is what Putin wants, but that is the sticking point. Ukraine wants its territory back, but Russia obviously cannot negotiate a settlement leaving it with less land than it had before the war."

"I just don't see a settlement until the war itself defines the structure of the bargaining positions much more clearly than is the case today."

Douglas Page, Political Science Assistant Professor, Gettysburg College (PA)

"I believe it's too early to tell how diplomatic efforts will play out. Russia's potential defeat in Ukraine may motivate settlement talks and/or further escalations in violence by Putin.

"An agreement regarding NATO membership could help advance a peace settlement, but Putin's aggression increases the likelihood of stalled talks and reneging."

William Muck, Political Science Professor, North Central College, Naperville (IL)

"Both Zelensky and Biden have regularly talked of the conflict as an existential battle for freedom and democracy in the world.

"Given the gravity of what is at stake in defending democracy in Ukraine, it seems unlikely that Zelensky could then turn around and give up large chunks of his territory.

"The other important factor to an agreement is separating what each side wants versus what they will accept.

"Conditions on the ground are likely to determine who cracks first. Will the relentless Russian bombing break the Ukraine population, or will global economic warfare crack the Russian economy?"

"The answer to that question is likely to determine who will be most amenable to revising their position at the negotiating table."

Peter Rutland, Professor of Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, Wesleyan University (CT)

"Securing a Ukrainian commitment to Swiss or Austrian style neutrality is something that the Kyiv government could accept, and that Russia could declare to be a victory since Ukraine was unwilling to make such a commitment before February 24."

"Ukraine would probably also have to agree not to allow foreign countries to establish military bases on their territory.

"The problem however is in the ancillary conditions. Presumably all Russian troops would withdraw to where they were before February 24.

"In recent days Russia has been insisting that Ukraine legally recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, which Kyiv has been refusing to concede.

"So Russia will have to drop that demand if this peace deal is going to happen. At this stage, I think it is possible that they will be willing to drop that demand, since the war is going so badly for them."

Ian Johnson, Assistant Professor of Military History, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, (IA)

"President Zelensky seemed to be signaling...he would consider a peace agreement on terms that might resemble 'Finlandization.' The term, used to describe Finland's position in the Cold War, meant independence but with limitations on Finland's foreign policy, particularly its ability to act against Soviet interests.

"Such an agreement might require Ukraine to pledge not to join NATO, and perhaps concede degrees of control across Russian-occupied portions of Eastern Ukraine.

"However, there are significant barriers to reaching an agreement of that sort, as it would fall well short of Putin's stated aim of 'de-nazifying and demilitarizing' Ukraine.

"It would also be a bitter pill for Ukraine to swallow after its much better-than-expected military performance to date."

Katie Laatikainen, Professor of Political Science, Adelphi University (NY)

"The discussions at the moment are most certainly focused on a ceasefire rather than a final negotiated conclusion. It is very difficult to negotiate a peace when bullets and missiles continue to fly."

"I think one of the gains that Putin would like to have recognized is the irredentist claims he has over majority Russian areas of Ukraine that are now under the control of the Russian military. But this will be much more difficult than the engineered annexation of Crimea in 2014.

"The fact that the invasion has not been met with Russian-speaking Ukrainians throwing their support to the Russian occupation makes this a much more difficult objective.

"So the contours of a final peace agreement will take a great deal of time, and the substantive elements are difficult to discern, because this conflict has also been cast as a test of the liberal international order."

Composite image pf Zelensky, Biden and troops
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (centre) has called for direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine. There has been diplomatic progress with hopes that it could end the hostilities. Getty Images