Ukraine faces ‘bloody stalemate’ — and 4 other scenarios

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A Ukrainian serviceman stands near the wreck of a Russian tank on the front line in the Kyiv region, Ukraine March 28, 2022. Photo by REUTERS/Gleb Garanich.

Russia’s assault on Ukraine is the most destructive event in Europe since World War II, and though it’s hard to determine how or when it might end, a team from Foreign Policy magazine came up with an assessment of what might be in store for Ukraine. 

After speaking to more than a dozen U.S. and European officials, military analysts, and regional experts, the Foreign Policy team tells KCRW’s Warren Olney that it’s found five broad scenarios that could end this conflict: a violent deadlock, a partition of Ukraine, a decisive victory of one side or the other, a peace agreement, and a “black swan event.”  

“The chances of a bloody stalemate, based on our conversations with the people we spoke to for this piece, are quite high,” says Amy MacKinnon, national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy and a member of the team assessing these scenarios. 

She says both sides are going to exhaust themselves on the battlefield before reaching a negotiation.

“This [conflict] will get worse before it gets better,” says Mackinnon, who believes a peace agreement is the only way out of this war. 

“Ukrainians have always taken this incredibly seriously. But we're starting to see an evolution in the positions of both sides and what may be on the table.” 

Mackinnon’s team believes “black swan events” — such as the use of chemicals and nuclear weapons, the war spilling over into Poland, or a regime change in Moscow — are “relatively unlikely” at this point. But the Biden administration and several agencies are looking into unexpected emergencies and responses, especially the possible use of chemical weapons.    

“I think the goal of officials in these kinds of very uncertain times is to try and think the unthinkable, and then work back from there so that they are at least prepared in the event that the unthinkable does happen.”

However, Evelyn Farkas, an official with the U.S. Department of Defense believes Vladmir Putin could turn to weapons of mass destruction because of his military doctrine, which calls for their use in order “to clear his opponent off the battlefield.” 

A Kremlin official recently warned that Russia was prepared to use nuclear weapons if “[Russia’s] existence was threatened.” And since Russia continues to encounter fierce resistance in Ukraine for over a month, Farkas says this is a much more dangerous phase of the war because Putin has repeatedly proven that “he doesn't care about human life.”

Russia has often “broken taboos” against using chemical weapons, and during a round of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul, a Russian billionaire and the Ukrainian prime minister “suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning.”  

In the meantime, Farkas says that the U.S. must continue helping Ukraine and stop “limiting [itself] while deferring to Putin.”  

In mid-March, when Russian forces intensified the slaughtering of Ukrainian civilians, and President Zelenskyy placed unrelenting calls for the West to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO publicly refrained from this kind of assistance, citing the risk of engaging in direct conflict with Russia. Also, the U.S. rejected a proposal to donate Polish fighter jets to Ukraine. 

She explained that “the more we telegraph publicly what we don’t want to provide [Ukraine to defend itself], the more we play into Moscow’s hands, and tie our own because of fear or how it may cause Russia to escalate.” 

In the end, Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine turns out to be as much about refugees as it is about combat. 

Later on the show, Giovanni Peri, Director of the Global Migration Center at UC Davis and Chair of the Department of Economics, explains how Ukrainian refugees have streamed across several borders in the tens of thousands for weeks now. 

“[It] is probably the first time that in Europe, there has been such a massive acceptance of refugees,” Peri says. Some 4 million have crossed the border from Ukraine. “Every country is scrambling trying to deal with these huge numbers.” 

Many refugees have been welcomed in neighboring countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungaria, Slovakia. 

“Europe has taken every step in which any Ukrainian that arrives in any country of the European Union is able to work and to have the children in school right away,” Peri explains.  

However, there have been reports of discrimination against people of color who have not been allowed on trains while trying to escape Urkaine.  

“Different cultures tend to have a worse treatment than people that look more similar to other Europeans.”

Peri explains that race, ethnicity, and religion are reasons to petition for asylum under the United Nations Convention of Refugees, which was established after WWII.




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody