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War has been raging in Ukraine for 4 months. What comes next, and when will it end?

Grid’s global team looks at the next stage of the war, and chances for victory for Russia and Ukraine.

Hear excerpts from the conversation between Joshua Keating, Nikhil Kumar and Tom Nagorski:

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Right now, most experts you talk to say that they expect the pace of fighting to slow even more in the coming weeks, over the course of the summer, as the two sides are exhausted. I think that we’ll see the lines becoming even more fixed. And then it becomes a kind of race to see whether some of these new weapons systems that the West is rushing into Ukraine can turn the tide of battle and maybe allow Ukraine to mount counter-offensives to retake some of this area? Of course, the problem with that is Ukrainian forces are badly depleted, too. They’ve said they may be losing more than 100 troops a day, so they’re not exactly in prewar condition, either.

What’s happening now is they’re asking for NATO systems, and those are starting to be sent. But it’s not just a matter of getting them there. It’s training Ukrainian troops on how to use them. And what people say is even harder is training mechanics on how to maintain them. These are different systems than what the Ukrainian military is used to. That kind of stuff, in a normal military context, can take months. The Ukrainians say they can do it in weeks. But you know, even weeks, in a war like this, is a lifetime. And it’s really kind of a race against time to get this stuff online in time to make a difference in the Donbas.

And we saw a demonstration of this very recently at the BRICS summit, which was done virtually, hosted by Beijing. And Putin was there, it was his first sort of big multilateral outing, really, since the beginning of the war, albeit virtual, but he was there. And he was there with these other countries — India, China, Brazil, South Africa. And we had the news yesterday from the Kremlin saying that they have accepted an invitation for Vladimir Putin to attend the G-20 later this year in Indonesia. We’ll see if that actually happens.

But it demonstrates that Putin has not been shut out and not been thrown off the world stage in the way that you might believe if you just heard things that were said in the U.S. and Europe. And it really all comes down to his economic clout. At the end of the day, Putin controls a country, an economy that is extremely resource-rich and is a major player in the global gas market and a major player in the global oil market. It continues to supply oil and gas. In fact, supplies have been stepped up to China in India as Russia goes to them and offers very deep discounts at a time when its war has played a big part in driving up these prices internationally.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy, move more and more to cutting into that dependence. But even that process is happening gradually. And it’s happening gradually because at the end of the day, Russia is just too much a part of the global energy market. So whereas in the financial markets and the financial system, the United States can with its allies shut it out, it can’t do so with as much speed when it comes to the energy market.

And the energy market matters, particularly because war is driving up inflation. And that means that these resources become more expensive. And that matters for all these countries — for China, India and others. India’s Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi doesn’t want prices to rise for his citizens. And his ministers have said again and again, “Look, in this war we empathize with Ukraine, but we have our own interests that we need to look after.”

And so that means that at the end of the day, Putin is not quite the pariah that you would initially believe.

Russian oil supplies as a proportion of India’s total oil imports stood at about 1 to 3 percent, something like that, before the war. Russia was never a big player when it came to sending oil to India. It was a big player in the Indian defense industry and remains so, but not so much with oil. But because of these discounts — we have estimates that Russia is selling oil to India and China at a discount of up to 30 percent — India’s dependence on Russian oil has shot up in the last few months. It has overtaken countries like Saudi Arabia, in terms of supplying oil to India.

So India is walking this middle ground. Because I think India increasingly feels that — because the U.S. needs it in South Asia, and indeed in the Indo-Pacific region where they have been trying to counter China’s influence — I think India believes more and more that they can continue to effectively play both sides.

But some of these atrocities we see, like this mall attack, make it harder for Western governments to turn away. There are differences in opinion — there’s the European Council on Foreign Relations poll the other day that basically broke European countries into the peace camps and war camps. And Italy, interesting enough, was the most skeptical about supporting the Ukrainian resistance. But I think that what’s more striking is how long the solidarity and support has held up. It’s been much longer than I would have expected based on what we’ve seen after crises involving Russia in the past. The public interest in this — obviously it’s not what it was, because of a host of competing major issues — but the level of public interest that we still see in this war in Ukraine months later, I think we shouldn’t lose sight of how remarkable that is.

There is, in the isolationist corners of the Republican Party and in the more anti-war factions of the left, a little more skepticism in Congress. But it’s really at the margins right now. And I suppose we’ll see what happens after the midterms, if Republicans take back control, but I wouldn’t expect to see any major changes on Ukraine policy. It does seem like the support for this is pretty across-the-board, even with the sort of economic costs that some of the sanctions may be imposing.

And so for the G-7 to really fulfill that commitment to allow shipments to resume, the conflict needs to be brought to an end. That is the key thing that is stopping Ukraine from being able to supply food that it already has in storage facilities to all these other countries around the world.

When it comes to the staples that you mentioned, that’s also about what’s been planted and what will be harvested later in the year. And that’s been interrupted by the war — Ukraine tried its best to have a spring planting season around the country, but we are still anticipating a shortfall there as well.

Then, once these new weapons systems come online, once the Ukrainians are trained on them, will that be able to make a difference in the battlefield? Will they be able to turn the tide in the Donbas? Will some of these counter-offensives we’re seeing in places like Kherson bear fruit?

I think the important thing to keep in mind is that this is not going to end in the coming days, certainly, probably not in the coming weeks. I think by the fall, we may have a better idea, and we shouldn’t rule out another expansion of Russia’s war aims and other attempts by them to move toward some of the more maximalist goals they had earlier in the fight. But in order to make that happen, I think there’s going to have to be a kind of pause in the next few weeks for both sides to replenish and recover some of their forces. So if I had to guess right now, I would guess we’re going to start to see the pace of the war slow in the coming weeks. And then developments one way or another are going to start to get a little more dramatic as we get into the fall and winter.

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