And a confession that I’ve been too gloomy about the war in Ukraine
As we were going to press last week — I still don’t know a better web-era phrase for that process — Ukraine mounted its long-awaited initiative to break the military stalemate that had set in after Russia’s initial defeat in attempting a full-scale invasion. The Kharkiv advance was far more successful than anyone seems to have expected, including the Ukrainians. You’ve seen the maps of regained territory, but the psychological impact is surely more profound. Russian morale is in the toilet — and if it seems a bit premature to say that Ukraine will soon “win” the war, it’s harder and harder to see how Russia doesn’t lose it. By any measure, this is a wonderful development — made possible by Ukrainian courage and Western arms.
Does this change my gloomy assessment of Putin’s economic war on Europe, which will gain momentum as the winter drags on? Yes and no. Yes, it will help shore up nervous European governments who can now point to Ukraine’s success to justify the coming energy-driven recession. No, it will not make that recession any less intense or destabilizing. It may make it worse, as Putin lashes out.
More to the point, the Kharkiv euphoria will not last forever. September is not next February. Russia still has plenty of ammunition to throw Ukraine’s way (even if it has to scrounge some from North Korea); it is still occupying close to a fifth of the country; still enjoying record oil revenues; has yet to fully mobilize for a war; and still has China and much of the developing world in (very tepid) acquiescence. Putin is very much at bay. But he is not finished.
Europe’s scramble to prevent mass suffering this winter is made up of beefing up reserves (now 84 percent full, ahead of schedule), energy rationing, government pledges to cut gas and electricity use, nationalization of gas companies, and billions in aid to consumers and industry, with some of the money recouped by windfall taxes on energy suppliers. The record recently is cause for optimism: