IT wasn’t that long ago that the war in Ukraine was impossible to ignore. Turn on the television or radio, open a newspaper or magazine, peruse social media and there it was.

People took to the streets here and across the world in protest marches against the Russian invasion, while the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag became ubiquitous, from taxi stickers to fluttering pennants from the windows of people’s homes.

To some degree, all of these are still with us, but it’s as if suddenly, somehow, the sense of outrage and urgency that once surrounded them has diminished.

It’s not as if the war has gone away, far from it, but there’s an inescapable sense in news terms that the ongoing bloodletting has been replaced with speculation over the diplomatic bargaining of a possible endgame.

Just to be clear here, not for one moment am I suggesting that the war is going to end anytime soon. If only that were so. But still, that inkling from Ukraine and Russia grows daily that a resolution of some kind is in the offing, even if both sides are still talking tough.

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Just this week, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, made it clear that Kyiv wants to avoid a winter war. Not only would this give Russian forces time to dig in and make any Ukrainian counter-offensive more difficult, explained Yermak, but he backed up his remarks by suggesting that the US arms lend-lease to Ukraine will provide enough weapons before winter to allow Ukrainian troops to achieve “victory” before then.

No sooner had Yermak made his comments. Russian officials were striking an equally defiant tone, insisting that peace would be on Moscow’s terms.

If US intelligence reports are anything to go by though, “Moscow’s terms”, might mean annexing multiple Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine.

Those four regions, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk, are contiguous and together would connect Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow occupied and annexed in 2014.

Clearly, any such annexation would mean Russia de facto claiming large swathes of Ukraine’s territory and fundamentally shifting the outlook for any peaceful resolution to the war.

The National: Vladimir Putin

What though if Russian president Vladimir Putin (above) decided to settle for such territorial gains and made Moscow’s retention of them the basis for the start of serious talks about a ceasefire or even an end to the war?

Would his Ukrainian counterpart Zelenskyy view such an offer as a starting point to ending the conflict or utterly dismiss such terms out of hand?

On the face of it, that degree of compromise would appear unpalatable and potentially politically suicidal to Zelenskyy, who has built his entire stance around giving Russian aggression no quarter.

There are those Ukrainians who will insist that having already sacrificed so much blood and treasure, such annexation of territory would be too high a price to pay for peace. Others might argue also that what’s to stop Putin from coming back later for more of Ukraine or launching similar military campaigns elsewhere in the region to seize territory?

That certainly worries Washington and many of Ukraine’s western and regional allies. But equally, other things such as energy supplies worry some of those same Western allies too, notably France and Germany.

It might be searing hot across much of Europe right now, but many analysts say its citizens can soon be expected to restrain their use of air conditioning so they can stay warm this winter.

French President Emmanuel Macron has already warned of a “scenario where the country would have to manage completely without Russian gas” because Moscow is using it as a “weapon of war”.

As a result, France will have to go through a period of “energy restraint”.

And should Moscow do across the whole European continent what it has already done by stopping gas to Finland, Poland and Bulgaria for refusing to pay in roubles, then the scene is set for more pressure to build on Zelenskyy to bring an end to the war.

In fact, the closer one looks at the war from Zelenskyy’s perspective right now the Ukrainian leader is arguably in as tricky a position now – albeit different – as he was during those perilous days when Russian forces were bearing down on Kyiv.

Even within Zelenskyy’s own ranks, there are signs not all is well. Just last week, he fired Ivan Bakanov Ukraine’s security service chief and the country’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, citing hundreds of criminal proceedings into treason and collaboration with the Russians by people within their departments.

The National: In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Friday, July 8, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, attends a meeting with military officials during his visit the war-hit Dnipropetrovsk region. (Ukrainian Presidential

It could not have been an easy decision for Zelenskyy, given that Bakanov especially was a lifelong friend who joined the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) right after Zelenskyy and his party’s electoral victory in 2019.

As Mikhail (Mykhailo) Minakov, editor-in-chief of Focus Ukraine observed recently, political processes change dramatically during a time of war, and Ukraine is no exception.

“In the early stages of the war, the usual competition between the ruling group and the opposition is dampened, while society becomes more disciplined and united around the government,” explained Minakov.

Minakov concluded that: “But the longer the war goes on, the more politics adapts: either it further organises around the leader of the nation at war or the usual competition returns, but posing an unusual threat to national security… Ukraine seems to be entering the second phase.”

This pressure from within is sure to impact on Zelenskyy’s decision-making in the political challenges that lie ahead.

Few would dispute that it’s ultimately up to Ukraine to decide its own fate but domestic political manoeuvrings aside, Zelenskyy is almost certain to feel the additional weight of some allies also bearing down as they seek to protect their own interests whatever assurances they might have given over having Kyiv’s back at all costs against Russia’s invasion.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has proved to be a remarkable and courageous leader to date, and has had to make some profoundly tough decisions in determining his country’s fate.

I can’t help but feel though that some of the toughest are yet to come – and looming up faster than many realise – as our attention span on Ukraine shows troubling signs of wavering.