The Russian invasion of Ukraine had a pretty clear strategy at the outset. After multiple failures, many of them having less to do with the heroism of the defenders than the incompetence and ineptitude of the Russian military, the strategy increasingly looks like a negotiating tactic with Putin’s forces looking to consolidate their gains and carve out what they can. Those gains would still be formidable in their own right, but they fall far short of the resources and losses expended on the invasion.
From the traditional Russian military perspective, gains count irrespective of the losses, and domestic propaganda will no doubt claim that it was an uphill battle against America and Europe, but other world leaders will not be impressed and Russia has taken a beating, not so much for launching an invasion, as doing such a poor job of it.
In realpolitik, failure is the ultimate war crime.
On the Ukrainian side, the losses remain severe and the government has a choice between cutting a deal that recognizes current Russian gains or hoping that the sanctions or the complete collapse of the Russian military will somehow force Putin to withdraw. These are both implausible and unlikely.
Putin can sell a deal that expands Russia’s sphere of influence as a win despite the losses, but an actual withdrawal would be catastrophic.
In the worst-case scenario, Russian forces can hold what they will in the absence of an official deal, only a ceasefire. And that may be what suits everyone best. Both sides negotiate a cease-fire and claim victory. Ukraine accuses Russia of an illegal occupation. Russia accuses Ukraine of all the usual stuff.
Putin and Zelensky both do a victory tour and repress the political opposition.
In that scenario the sanctions on Russia will eventually fall away. Ukraine will get a ton of help rebuilding. And at some point the whole thing will resume again. Perhaps after a whole lot more Russian generals have been “killed” or otherwise retired. Not that history suggests that will help in the least.
Ukraine will demand to join the EU. In order to keep that from happening, Europe will shove a ton of money at Ukraine. Everyone wins.