Analysis: Even a weak Russia is a problem for Europe
Almost a year after Russia invaded Ukraine it is hard to see Vladimir Putin winning his war. But a lasting peace is not on the cards either.
There are many possible scenarios for how the military conflict will evolve. The most probable is that neither Russia nor Ukraine prevails on the battlefield and there won’t be a formal peace deal for a long time. After all, that would involve either Ukraine surrendering land, which it cannot accept, or Russia giving up all the territory it has occupied including Crimea, which Putin won’t do.
Russia’s war economy is increasingly churning out tanks, missiles, ammunition and planes. The Kremlin, whose budget deficit soared to $25 billion Ukraine will bear the brunt of the conflict in terms of lost lives, destroyed buildings and economic hardship, as it has for the past year. The European Union and United Kingdom will also share some pain. They are already having to find alternatives to Russian gas. Although gas price futures for next winter have fallen from last year’s peak, they are still four times higher than two years ago. This has boosted inflation and undermined industrial competitiveness. Meanwhile, by shunning Russian oil, Europe is paying more for crude imports while China and India buy the black stuff at a discount.
The other big question is what happens if Putin dies or is pushed out. Again, there are multiple scenarios. Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, a French think-tank, outlines four: Russia makes a democratic transition just as West Germany did after World War Two; it seals itself from the rest of the world like North Korea; it nurses its grievances with the aim of reconquering territory when it is stronger; or it breaks up.
Arms and alms
In this last scenario, Europe and America would be interested in rapprochement, especially if they saw a way to pull Russia out of China’s orbit. Any significant thawing of relations would have to wait for a formal peace deal with Ukraine, though.
n last month, will soon find it impossible to shield ordinary Russians from these costs. The population will pay with higher taxes, lower welfare spending or inflation. Meanwhile, Putin will throw more young soldiers at Ukraine’s battle lines.