(CN) — The world reached a grim milestone Thursday of 225 days since the Kremlin threw world politics into disarray by invading its neighbor.
While the outcome of the conflict remains far from certain, urgency is setting in as winter increasingly becomes a factor in determining next steps. Both Ukraine and Russia are digging in to keep fighting into 2023.
Indeed, Russia's threat to bring nuclear weapons into the equation, a response to the success of Kyiv's NATO-backed counteroffensives in northeastern and southern Ukraine, has moved the world to the closest point of catastrophic nuclear confrontation since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
Settling the conflict through negotiations remains on the table, though a brokered end to the war seems at best months away from being even a possibility.
Europe and the United States are now hunkering down to survive Russian President Vladimir Putin's trump card: making it through a winter without Russian natural gas, crude oil and coal.
On Thursday, leaders from 44 European nations met at the Prague Castle where they were hosted by the Czech government. The summit, called the European Political Community, is the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Elysée is attempting to create a new “club of nations” capable of developing a more nimble and strategically capable diplomatic umbrella group and foster a better pan-European security system.
Naturally, Paris sees itself playing a central role in such a European-based security system. France is Europe's military and nuclear leader alongside Great Britain.
For decades, France has expressed wariness of both NATO and the direction of the European Union project. French presidents consistently advocate a looser alliance among European nations, a kind of modern-day version of the famous 19th-century “Concert of Europe” that helped stabilize the balance of powers following the chaos of the French Revolution.
Since the end of World War II, France also has warned against Europe's reliance on American military might as its security blanket and called for a pan-European military alliance. Past European leaders have talked about including Russia in such a pact, but those proposals failed to materialize.
Macron described the convention “an important moment,” and he said the aim was to forge a common strategy to confront the challenges Europe faces. “Up until now, that did not really exist and could lead to divisions,” he said.
The prospects of anything concrete coming out of Macron's initiative are dubious because French overtures of this kind have failed in the past, and the U.S. remains the staunchest pillar in Europe's defense system. The Prague meeting was to continue on Friday.
Macron invited neither Washington nor Moscow to attend the talks in Prague. British Prime Minister Liz Truss was present, making this her first overseas trip since taking over at Downing Street from the scandal-ridden Boris Johnson.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was expected to speak to the Prague meeting via video and deliver another impassioned plea for military and financial aid for his war-besieged nation.
The war in Ukraine has shattered European illusions about not needing to build up their military might. Thirty years after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, European nations, chief among them Germany, are now rearming themselves.
At this point in the Ukraine war, the collective West, led by the U.S., has largely neutralized the threats posed by Putin's aggressive Russian regime; in many ways, the West sees that its aid to Kyiv has foiled the Kremlin's aims to subjugate Ukraine and make it a vassal.
Inside the Kremlin, there may be a shift in tone too.
On Thursday, Putin made a speech in which he said Russia felt no ill-will toward Ukrainians.