Robust leadership often takes shape in times of conflict. War is the continuation of politics by other means.
Fortune is apportioned to those lions who rise to the occasion. Leaders with exalted gifts such as Zelensky, were born for adversity. Zelensky is also an eloquent orator (or has a superb script writer). Often the quotes from him are intended to give the appearance of a defiant leader who is going to fight to the end. But when you read between the lines and what he says when he is pressed on conditions for peace, he seems to be extremely aware of the need for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict. He has therefore put forward a series of reasonable proposals that could well be the basis for a negotiation. This is in contrast to the mythology perpetuated by western media that attempts to lionize Zelensky as a Churchillian caricature, ignoring his more nuanced pronouncements about what settlement Ukraine can actually live with.
Putin was playing his hand reasonably well until his war in the Ukraine. Taking on more than he could chew exposed his lack of long term strategic planning. The Russians have been humiliated on the battlefield having lost multiple Generals and the flagship vessel of their fleet. Casualties are high and according to all estimates morale is low amongst a significant proportion of combat troops. War is ofcourse a turbulent endeavor, and Putin took an unjustifiable risk this time round. Chechnya, Georgia and Syria had manageable objectives that were capable of being realized over an extended schedule. While a protracted engagement with Ukraine over an extended period of time is grinding down the Russian war machine. A war of attrition is likely to ensue, that Moscow cannot win. Having said all this, we must raise the question of why Putin dared venturing a full frontal assault on Ukraine in the first place. Much of the blame lies with perceived western weakness, that has been on retreat around the globe under the current American administration, in particular the retreat from Afghanistan. Somewhat similar weakness was imputed to Bush after the post invasion Iraq debacle. It was then that Putin went to war against Georgia which was on the cusp of western influence. Obama fared the same, after his mismanagement of Libya Putin intervened in Syria. It was only under Trump that Putin was deterred from opening any new theatres of war. Trump was a strong President who had a tacit understanding with Putin concerning which lines could be crossed.
The current conflict in Ukraine is horrible enough, but it is nothing like a major war. There are hideous atrocities, but the death toll is 'only' in the thousands. This may turn into a major conflict if Putin's back is driven against the wall. Wars can end in two ways. By either one side destroying the other, or by negotiations. So far the evidence suggests that Russia under Putin is increasingly unpredictable. According to the western consensus the Russians have proven themselves to be a paper tiger.