One year on
The Ukraine war is one year old. Here’s the scoreboard from a year of madness.
The Human Cost : over a third of a million deaths, 200000+ Russian military, an estimated 100000 Ukrainian military and tens of thousands of civilians – many just executed. Given the uncertainties the figure quoted is on the conservative side.
Over 5 million Ukrainian refugees living in host countries and a further 7 million are displaced in their own country. Nearly a million Russians – often young and educated – have fled their homeland to avoid call up papers or being treated as being hostile to their own government.
The Economy : Ukraine’s economy – never huge – is a wreck and will need an estimated £500 billion to make good the damage, though frankly the numbers flying around have huge variances and nobody really knows. But it is a big bill and the fighting has not stopped yet.
Russia having survived year one in good financial order is now starting to see the cost of war as sanctions start to bite and Europe shifts its energy supplies elsewhere. China and India are not yet able to compensate for the fiscal hit. Half the county’s reserves are frozen overseas, and the other half is getting ground down to fund a war. When the fighting stops Russia will face as big a challenge to restructure its economy as Ukraine.
Military impact; Ukraine’s stubborn resistance has taken most people by surprise, especially the Russians. However it is fragile and made possible only by massive Western support. The West itself has been wrongfooted as its assumptions on its next war did not foresee full scale heavy combat. So, fighting intensity has drained ammunition stocks, tanks are suddenly no longer obsolete, and everyone is trying figure out drones. Nonetheless Ukraine’s army is still in the field and weathering the storm.
For the Russian army the first year has been horrendous, its reputation is in tatters. A much feared army has been shown to be corrupt, incompetent, badly equipped and even worse led. That is not to say the Russian forces wont eventually get their act together, but that will take time and new leadership both luxuries they might not have. Post conflict the Russians will have their hands full trying to restore their reputation.
Geopolitical shifts. Russia is the big loser in the conflict to date. Prior to the invasion its European neighbours were fat dumb and happy and didn’t want to rock the boat. Russia had three key cards: energy exports, a feared army and nuclear weapons. Now they have wrecked their energy markets, the military is a busted flush and only the nukes are left. In the wider world Russia still has influence and support among developing nations but this may be the high point as cash and reputation take a hit. The biggest risk Russia faces is ,in its difficulties, it needs more support from China and ends up in semi vassal nation.
And for Putin and his friends the Russky Mir project is on life support. Ukraine is no longer drifting into the Russian orbit and question marks must be placed against Belarus and the Russian periphery.
For Ukraine the shift is now simply to get itself safely within a Western orbit whether NATO or the EU. A poll in December showed 82% of Ukrainians had a very negative opinion of Russia and events on the ground show they don’t fancy a shot gun wedding. Ukraine is drifting West not East.
Looking back on the year this is a lose-lose war with no clear end in sight. Most conflicts end with a negotiated settlement but who will bring the sides together? China and the US may be able to bridge that gap by taking their client state to one side and telling them the hard facts. But short of that it’s hard not to think we are heading in to a second year of insane conflict