This coming Tuesday marks six months since that terrible day. The initial blitzkrieg is over, giving way to a slower attrition war in southern Ukraine. While the situation is no less dire, democratic governments may find it harder to convince their populations of this as they grapple with soaring energy and food prices. This is a good time to take stock of the results of the war, in six points from our many chronicles of writers around the world.
1. The innocent toll is painful
Although the worst month of civilian casualties seems to be behind us, hundreds of Ukrainian civilians continue to lose their lives each month and many more are injured:
2. Millions of refugees are scattered across Europe
Before the start of the war, it was estimated that between 1 and 5 million refugees could flee Ukraine. This prediction turned out to be too conservative. There are currently around 6.7 million registered refugees scattered across Europe, not counting those who have returned home – UNHCR has recorded around 11 million border crossings from Ukraine and 4.7 million crossings to the country.
3. Global support for Ukraine is fading
The horrors unfolding in Ukraine have brought the democratic world and its public closer together. In the UK, where I am based, Ukrainian flags are still flying as a sign of moral support. Governments sent billions of dollars to Ukraine in military, humanitarian and financial aid and imposed sanctions on Putin and his enablers.
But that hasn’t stopped the bloodshed and, as the editors point out, public support will wane as the war drags on, especially as nations struggle to deal with domestic issues such than the soaring cost of living. In a May poll of 10 European countries, 42% of respondents said their governments paid too much attention to Ukraine compared to their problems.
4. Putin is winning the energy battle
Of course, many of Europe’s problems stem from the same enemy as Ukraine’s: Putin. While it sends bombs into Ukraine, it also succeeds in militarizing energy supplies.
The outlook for energy markets is quite bleak. Javier Blas writes that whichever indicator you use, Putin is winning the energy battle. Russia still earns hundreds of millions of dollars every day selling oil to fund the invasion. That means it can afford to forgo revenue from natural gas sales and put even more pressure on Berlin, Paris and London, which are bracing for massive energy price increases and shortages. Germany’s benchmark electricity price for the year ahead has climbed to a record high over the past six months and shows few signs of slowing down:
Germany has done a good job of filling its gas stocks, with a target of 95% filling by November now looking achievable. But Julian Lee says the risk of a cold, dark winter plagued by power outages remains very real for many on the continent. That’s because physical availability is only one part of the equation, the other is price – and that gets tricky. Kosovo is already imposing power cuts after its distributor ran out of money to import electricity from Albania. Over the next six months, it’s likely more countries will follow suit – the UK is already predicting blackouts in January.
5. Switzerland is still neutral, and that’s good
The position of the democratic world against the Russian atrocities raises a delicate question about one country in particular: Switzerland. Neutrality has been part of the Swiss national identity for centuries, but can it really remain neutral and claim democratic and humanitarian values in the face of this invasion? Andreas Kluth says it has to. After all, peace will eventually have to be negotiated, and for that, a truly neutral framework is essential. Lake Geneva is currently the best option we have.
6. The next six months will be very different from the first six
What next? On the subject of war, Hal Brands wrote earlier this month that the war was now entering a decisive third phase. To recap, phase one was Russia’s blitzkrieg failure and phase two was Moscow’s push to seize the entire Donbas region along the border.
The third phase will include a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south. If he can regain enough territory, time will be on his side. It will be as much a question of psychology as of tactics.
Putin, meanwhile, has been so focused on reinventing the past and surviving the present for six months that he has forgotten about the future. So far he has managed to maintain apparent public support:
It’s mainly because the Russians don’t expect to pay the price for this war. But it’s inevitable that reality will eventually bite, says Clara Ferreira Marques – and hard. The country faces a future of shoddy products with low safety standards, paltry foreign direct investment and declining real incomes. McDonald’s, for example, has been replaced by Vkusno i Tochka, but there are no fries.
It is reminiscent of the end of the Soviet Union, if it ever really ended. The union itself may cease to exist, but war is only the latest and worst of its death pangs. Brands explains that Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991 contributed to the initial dissolution of the regime. It is sadly symbolic that Ukraine is now at the center of Putin’s desperate attempt to reassert Russian dominance.
It’s safe to say that the past six months have changed countless lives – and the world order – immeasurably. The only thing to say for sure is that the next six months threaten to do the same.
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Lara Williams is social media editor for Bloomberg Opinion.
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