Who would have thought it would last so long? It’s now 357 days since Russia launched its Ukraine invasion. The Russians thought they would take Kiev within days, betting the Ukrainians wouldn’t mount much of a fight. Once the truth dawned it was going to be a long war came a far more brutal approach. Russian forces initially were careful to minimise infrastructure damage as they thought it would all fall into their laps. But by August, the Russians had destroyed Ukraine’s second-largest steel plant and taken out the oil refinery at Kremenchuk which processed half the country’s crude. ArcelorMittal’s steel plant in Kryvyi Rih is closed due to power shortages but still intact although the Russians were just a few kilometres away at one point. Now, Russian missiles are hammering apartment blocks and factories alike.

Why did Russia start the war at this particular juncture? The CIA said long in advance Russia had its men and materiel on Ukraine’s border poised to strike. That, itself, should have slammed the brakes on any invasion. As one Indian analyst commented: “Why Russia went on with its invasion plans, even after it was clear Western intelligence had total information, showed foolishness of a very high degree.”

Now Russia seems to have launched its long-awaited new offensive, bombarding the eastern Ukraine city Bakhmut. This city is in the Donetsk region, part of Ukraine where 38 per cent of the population are ethnic Russians (Donetsk and another region Luhansk make up the heavily industrialised Donbas region).

The Russians have been saying for a while now they don’t wish to conquer the entire Ukraine but want the four regions containing a strong ethnic Russian population. The regions would add to Russia’s industrial clout while seizing Bakhmut would give Russia a rare win after months of battlefield setbacks. But NATO predicts the Russians will take heavy casualties in this new stage of the fighting.

The Russians are clearly petrified about having NATO on their border. Where they miscalculated is they didn’t reckon on the strength of the Ukrainian fightback and on Western unity. Kremlin’s intelligence should also have been aware Ukrainians wouldn’t welcome Russia with open arms and that Ukraine wouldn’t collapse overnight. If you count reserves, Ukraine has a nearly 500,000 standing army. That’s more than the 150,000 ill-equipped men Russia initially threw into the conflict. After the war’s early rounds, Russia was forced to conscript tens of thousands of untrained soldiers.

Why the invasion?

What’s the Russian viewpoint? The Kremlin argued at first the invasion was an attempt to rescue Ukraine from far-right extremist “Nazis.” Now the Russians say this is a war being waged by the West against Russia. They point out the close ties between Ukraine and NATO and that NATO officers are doing all training. They insist Western officers are also directing the war.

Even now, despite horrific casualties on both sides nobody’s talking peace. Both the Russians and Ukrainians are making maximalist demands as they try to win outright. The Ukrainians want to get rid of all Russian troops from their territory including Crimea.

The Americans are the only ones who can bring the two sides to the peace table. CIA chief William Burns was in Moscow in January and he’s one American the Russians are said to have respect for (he’s an ex-US ambassador to Moscow). But so far there are no peace feelers on the table. Where does India fit in all this? It’s doing well with its delicate balancing act, buying huge quantities of crude oil from Russia despite Western sanctions. In January, we bought almost 1.7 million barrels per day (BPD). India and China — along with Bulgaria — are almost the only buyers of Russian oil. Why does the world turn a blind eye to India’s oil buying?

It’s because the world needs oil and India has become a conduit to funnel it to other parts of the globe. The Americans aren’t about to stop the export to India because it would create a worldwide shortage and send prices skyrocketing. In January, the US was the biggest buyer of Indian refined crude.

Is there a danger of the war going nuclear? The Americans have been keen not to trigger a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO. They’re said to be wary about giving Ukraine fighter jets, reckoning it might be a step too far. Sitting some distance from the conflict, we can only hope sense prevails and the conflict does not descend into a nuclear Armageddon.