Tanks and soldiers are unambiguous. Artillery too. Russia invaded Ukraine, for the second time in a decade.

To everyone’s surprise, the western world was unified in its condemnation. The Ukrainian military, which had been steeling itself for this very thing, swung into action, and, not to put too fine a point on it, battered the invading Russians.

There is horrific suffering and destruction, but there is no doubt, that at great human and economic cost, Ukraine is winning the war. It’s black and white.

However, Putin has gritted his teeth, scaled back his war aims, and settled in for the long haul. The conflict in the South and East now looks to become long and protracted. Ukraine has established positions and the ferocity of will common to all those defending their homeland. Russia has numbers, and, funded by Western democracies rather too fond of oil and gas, can replenish its military hardware.

As Ukraine pushes Russia back toward the border, the Russians will dig in too.

Most of the West is keen for Ukraine to win, but not keen enough to supply the offensive weaponry required to drive the Russians out of the country. The EU is staunchly Pro-Ukraine, but its two leading nations Germany and France, are staunchly pro-, well, Germany and France. Both Macron and Scholz are asking whether actually, it might be worth letting Putin keep a few more bits of Ukraine. After all, we don’t want him feeling hard done-by, do we?

I’m for giving him Alsace-Lorraine, or Dresden perhaps.

Resolutely stupid politicians not withstanding, the conflict will now fade to grey. The news anchors will have their last coffees in Kyiv, and return to base. The war correspondents will still be in the East, recording thirty second pieces that will compete with reports on long-covid for fourth or fifth billing on the evening news, just before the heartwarming story of a puppy rescued from a well.

As crap as Russia has been in the black and white of battlefield war, they’re effective in the grey zone. There’s strong evidence that they’ve been interfering in elections (aided by those most useful of idiots, the Tech bro’s) and have been assassinating people left right and centre, using all manner of weapons from faked suicides to radioactive elements and nerve agents.

This war in the grey zone, a title I’ve nicked from an excellent podcast series by Sky News, is just as real as the one on the ground, and much harder to measure. As social media catches fire about the cost of living, Russian bots will be stoking the furnace. Populists on both wings of the political spectrum will gain funding and direction. Russian commodities will somehow get to market, sanctions notwithstanding, replenishing the war chest in Moscow.

Putin will fall. In a coup? Maybe. Death? Could be. He’s getting on a bit, and is clearly not well. However, there’s nothing to indicate that he will be replaced by an opposition leader, or a democrat. You can bet your bottom dollar that people are working in the background - jockeying for position, but I wouldn’t count on a unifying Mandela-like figure appearing from the fog of war, bringing peace and love.

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