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A resident looks for belongings in the ruins of an apartment building destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Borodyanka, Ukraine, on April 5.Vadim Ghirda/The Associated Press

Wednesday marks the six-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It would be nice to know what fraction of the ultimate duration of the war those six months will amount to – half? a quarter? a 10th? – but it’s impossible to say.

Impossible, because this war has already shattered so many delusions – first and foremost being the one where many in the West hoped right up to the last minute that Russian President Vladimir Putin was bluffing, and that he wouldn’t start the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the Second World War.

The Russian President was driven by delusions of his own, believing that his bigger army and superior firepower would easily rout Ukraine’s defences, and bring quick victory. Some of his invading forces carried their dress uniforms, for the expected victory parade through Kyiv.

Not only has Ukraine put up a strong and savvy resistance, military aid from the United States, Canada and the rest of NATO have allowed the Ukrainians to stall Russia’s advance, roll them back around Kyiv, and even begin to make modest offensive strikes of their own.

But therein lies a third delusion: that Ukraine, after many successes on defence, can pivot and quickly recapture its lost territories. There is little evidence that Ukraine has the ability to mount a major offensive, at least not any time soon. Russia has suffered huge loses since Feb. 24 – the U.S. State Department recently estimated as many as 80,000 dead and wounded – but it has only occupied around one-10th of Ukraine, added to the 10th it seized in 2014. Lines have barely moved in recent weeks.

And so, at the six-month mark of the war, the forecast is for more war.

On the plus side, the exodus of Ukrainian refugees has slowed, and even reversed. Millions have crossed back from Poland and other neighbouring countries, according to United Nations data. And there is evidence that Western economic sanctions are having an effect – if not on Mr. Putin’s goals, then at least on his ability to achieve them. His country’s gross domestic product fell 4 per cent in the second quarter of 2022.

But any optimism that the war will soon be over is almost certainly another delusion. Wednesday marks the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union – an event Mr. Putin views as an illegitimate catastrophe. There is every reason to think he will want to make a violent statement to mark it.

Which brings us to a final delusion: that the war’s continuation is Ukraine’s fault. If only Ukraine would be reasonable, sit down at the negotiating table and sign away some territory to Russia, it could all be over tomorrow.

The trouble with this view is it ignores that Mr. Putin’s invasion started with a demand for total surrender. He insisted Ukraine is not a real country, and as such he declared that he had every right to change its government and reabsorb it into the Russian sphere of influence, or annex its territory.

Things have not played out according to the Kremlin’s script, but neither have sanctions and military setbacks pushed Mr. Putin to the negotiating table. And it remains unclear what he wants out of this war; for his own domestic audience, the war is often portrayed as being solely about “rescuing” Russian-speakers in the Donbas, but since Feb. 24 Russian forces have been operating and striking far beyond that territory.

There are no talks to end the war because there is, at least for now, nothing to negotiate. The battlefield is, for the moment, the only site of negotiations. That means the war could last for years.

As the seasons pass, governments in the West could have a harder time convincing their voters that their tax dollars should be spent in Ukraine, and that any sanctions whose effects are felt domestically are worth continuing. Mr. Putin himself may be hoping that a multiyear war, and his moves to drive up natural gas prices in Europe, will open cracks in the Western alliance.

Which means it is critical for Europe, the U.S., Canada and other allies to be as relentless as Russia’s President is ruthless. Sanctions should be toughened where possible, and more importantly, the flow of weapons and aid to Ukraine has to keep coming. Six months into Mr. Putin’s illegal war, the hard part may just be starting.

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