The Ukraine War Started 6 Months Ago. We Have 6 Takeaways


On Feb. 24, the world united in horror as Russian missiles rained down on Ukraine. The US, UK and European Union unleashed sweeping sanctions against the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin. People lucky enough to live in a country not currently being invaded were driven to help in any way they could, be it donations of essential items for refugees, charitable offerings or protests against the invasion.

This coming Tuesday marks six months since that terrible day. The initial blitzkrieg is over, giving way to a slower war of attrition in the south of Ukraine. Though the situation is no less dire, democratic governments may find it harder to convince their populaces of that as they struggle with soaring energy and food prices. Now’s a good time to take stock of the war’s toll, in six points based on our many columns from writers around the world.

1. The Toll on Innocents Is Grievous 

Though the worst month of civilian casualties appears to be behind us, hundreds of Ukrainian civilians are still losing their lives every month, and many more are being injured:

2. Millions of Refugees Are Scattered Across Europe 

Before the war began, it was estimated that 1 million to 5 million refugees could flee Ukraine. That prediction has ended up being too conservative. There are currently about 6.7 million recorded refugees scattered across Europe, not counting those who have returned home — the UNHCR has recorded about 11 million border crossings out of Ukraine and 4.7 million crossings back into the country.

3. Global Support for Ukraine Is Fading

The horrors unfolding within Ukraine have brought together the democratic world and its public. In the UK, where I’m based, Ukrainian flags still fly in moral support. Governments have 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 the longer the war drags on, especially as nations struggle to deal with problems at home such as the soaring cost of living. In a poll of 10 European countries taken in May, 42% of respondents said their governments pay too much attention to Ukraine relative to their troubles.

4. Putin Is Winning the Energy Battle

Of course, many of Europe’s problems stem from the same enemy as Ukraine’s: Putin. While he sends bombs to Ukraine, he’s also successfully weaponized energy supplies.

The outlook from the energy markets is pretty bleak. Javier Blas writes that, no matter what indicator you use, Putin is winning the energy battle. Russia is still earning hundreds of millions of dollars every day from selling oil to bankroll the invasion. That means it can afford to forgo income from natural gas sales and put even more pressure on Berlin, Paris and London, which are bracing for massive energy price increases and shortages. The benchmark year-ahead electricity price in Germany has soared over the past six months to an all-time high and shows little sign of slowing:

Germany has done a good job of filling its gas stockpiles, with a target of 95% full by November now looking achievable. But Julian Lee says the risk of a cold, dark winter plagued with blackouts 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’s getting tough. Kosovo is already imposing power cuts after its distributor ran out of money to import power from Albania. Over the next six months, it’s likely we’ll see more nations following suit — the UK is already planning for blackouts in January.

5. Switzerland Is Still Neutral, and That’s Good

The democratic world’s stand against Russian atrocities raises an awkward question about one particular country: Switzerland. Neutrality has been part of the Swiss national identity for centuries, but can it really continue to stay neutral and claim to hold democratic and humanitarian values in the face of this invasion? Andreas Kluth says it must. After all, peace will need to be brokered eventually and, for that, a truly neutral setting is essential. Lake Geneva is currently the best option we have.

6. The Next Six Months Will Differ Greatly From the First Six

So what next? In terms of warfare, Hal Brands wrote at the beginning of the month that the war is now entering a decisive third phase. To recap, phase one was Russia’s failed blitzkrieg and phase two was Moscow’s push to seize all of the Donbas area along the border.

Phase three will feature a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south. If it can retake enough territory, time will be on its side. It’ll be as much about psychology as it is about tactics.

Putin, meanwhile, has been so focused on reinventing the past and surviving the present for half a year that he’s been forgetting the future. So far, he has managed to maintain apparent public support:

Essentially that’s because Russians don’t expect to pay a cost for this war. But it’s inevitable that reality will bite eventually, says Clara Ferreira Marques — and hard. The country faces a future of poor quality goods with low safety standards, paltry foreign direct investment and declining real incomes. McDonald’s, for example, has been replaced byVkusno i Tochka, but there are no French fries.

It’s not unlike the end of the Soviet Union, if it did ever truly end. The union itself may cease to exist, but the war is just the latest and worst of its death throes. Brands explains that Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991 helped bring about the initial dissolution of the regime. It’s symbolic, sadly, that Ukraine today is at the center of Putin’s desperate attempt to reassert Russian dominance.

It’s safe to say that the last six months has changed countless lives — and the world order — immeasurably. The only thing to say for certain is that the next six months threatens to do the same.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lara Williams is a social media editor for Bloomberg Opinion.

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