(CNN) — The epicenter of the war in Ukraine is now in the burned-out cities in the east and south of the country. But the repercussions of the conflict are widening in a way that will leave few people on Earth untouched, from small-town America to poverty-stricken Africa.
At first, many wars—from World War I to the war in Iraq—looked like they would end quickly, leaving behind a brief and violent shock. But often those predictions fail, and protracted wars degenerate with domino effects that have far-reaching political, economic and humanitarian blowback.
These are the consequences that the world will face from Russia’s war in Ukraine
A longer war means more deaths, more atrocities
Russia’s war against Ukraine follows this pattern of protracted wars. After predictions that it would be a blitzkrieg to seize Kyiv two months ago, we now see that the war will drag on for another few months, if not longer.
The consequences of a war that lasts so long are serious. Given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal attack on civilians, it will mean many more Ukrainian deaths and almost inevitably more atrocities and war crimes. There will be an ever-present danger of the war spilling over into a wider conflagration, both militarily and in a growing standoff over Russia’s energy exports, which Europe urgently needs.
There could be direct confrontation of two nuclear powers
Whenever two nuclear powers the size of Russia and the United States are involved in even an indirect conflict, as is the case here given Washington’s massive injection of weapons into Ukraine, the possibility of a direct confrontation remains.
And a longer war means more uncertainty for Western leaders.
Global food insecurity is likely to worsen as the Ukrainian harvest fails, potentially increasing destabilization and unrest around the world.
In the US, people, already struggling with inflation, will also pay a cost. Supermarket prices and ever-increasing costs to fill up your gas tanks, which could spell huge political trouble for President Joe Biden in a midterm election year.
Why will the war in Ukraine continue?
There is one main reason why the war will drag on.
The strategic picture in Ukraine is that the country is far from defeated and the invader has not yet been defeated. That means neither side has much of an incentive to pursue urgent diplomacy to end the war.
Ukraine does not trust Putin after his unprovoked invasion — which was intended to crush its independence and national identity — and the carnage it has caused in the country. The heroism of Ukraine’s citizen army and the accelerating flow of Western weapons are fueling hopes of victory in Kyiv.
Putin, for his part, has yet to achieve any of his goals after a humiliating withdrawal from the outskirts of Kyiv. Despite the reported heavy losses of men and material, his generals have set new war goals for their troops: the seizure of the entire southern coast of Ukraine, to strangle the country by cutting off its access to the Black Sea.
The United States has acknowledged these developments with a strategy shift unveiled this week that seeks to use effective proxy warfare to weaken Russia so severely that it can no longer threaten Europe.
But Ukraine fears an expansion of the battlefield. Authorities warned on Wednesday of a possible new front in the southwest along the border with Moldova, involving the pro-Russian enclave of Transnistria.
And the threat of a full-blown energy war that could trigger a recession and serious hardship in Europe, and spillovers in the United States, became more likely on Wednesday when Russia cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, two countries in the NATO, members that were once in the orbit of the Soviet Union.
Everyone suffers with a longer war
The main result of a longer war, which has already featured some of the worst atrocities in Europe since the Nazi era, will tragically mean that many more Ukrainians will be killed or driven from their homes. But the deprivation and threat to life will not be contained within the country’s borders.
Indications that the war will continue for months will worsen the increasingly dire economic shock waves. The World Bank, for example, warned on Wednesday that the conflict had already caused the worst increase in commodity prices in 50 years. In America, this means higher grocery bills for Americans and deeper political headaches for Biden.
But it is worse in the developing world. Rising grain prices in nations stricken with poverty and poor nutrition are a life-and-death problem for millions of people.
Quick hints of a growing footprint of the Ukraine war on Wednesday coincided with more nuclear saber rattling by Putin, who warned that Russian enemies who interfered in Ukraine would face a heavy price.
“We have all the tools for this. Ones that no one can boast of. And we will not boast. We will use them if necessary,” Putin said.
The frightening rhetoric may be a sign that Russia is feeling pressure because its invasion targets have so far fallen short of expectations. But his words are a worrying reminder of the constant danger of an escalation of the conflict, especially as the United States is testing Russia’s red lines with its stream of weapons systems flowing into Ukraine.
In Washington and Moscow, there is now a common recognition that this war is about much more than Ukraine, and may be the opening engagement in a protracted and broader geopolitical struggle.
“If Russia gets away with it at no cost, then so will the so-called international order, and if that happens, then we will be entering an era of seriously heightened instability,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mr. General J. Mark Milley, this Tuesday.
Russia’s top brass also appreciate the broader dimensions of a conflict that has shattered the certainties of the post-Cold War world and made their country an international pariah.
“Now we are at war with the whole world,” Russian top general Rustam Minnekaev said in comments quoted by the Financial Times and the Berlin newspaper BZ.
What a longer war will mean for Americans
Assuming Biden succeeds in his main goal of avoiding a disastrous direct conflict between the two most nuclear-armed superpowers, the impact on the United States of a longer war in Ukraine will be primarily economic and political.
It will profoundly affect the lives of Americans, and Biden’s own political prospects, not only in a midterm election year that is projected to bring heavy losses to Democrats, but also in the run-up to his potential reelection race. 2024.
The World Bank’s warning about commodity prices must have alarmed the White House and underscored the fact that Ukraine was the worst place for a war to break out at a time when food and energy prices were already soaring. tall. That’s because Russia, now facing crushing sanctions from the West, is a major exporter of natural gas, oil and coal. Ukraine, the “breadbasket of Europe”, is a key source of wheat and corn. The probable total interruption of its harvest this year could be a disaster.
With inflation already at the highest levels since the 1980s, Biden is accused of crippling the economy, despite a strong overall recovery from the pandemic and record job creation numbers.
Another wave of rising food prices in the run-up to the midterm elections could doom Democratic congressional candidates.
So far, Biden is trying a questionable strategy of blaming the war for high inflation, calling it “Putin’s price gouging,” even though the high prices predate the invasion. Such nuances are unlikely to survive the brutal realities of the election campaign, where Republicans are already leaning toward a simple message about rising grocery bills, which could make Democratic attempts to link them to extremism of former President Donald Trump are less prominent.
The war could also hurt Biden beyond its economic impact
Biden has joined the Western alliance in an effort to punish and isolate Putin, restoring a foreign policy reputation badly tarnished by the failed US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.
But recent polls have suggested the war is far from a political win for Biden, even as he has kept his word to keep US soldiers out of the fight. When he beat Trump in 2020, no voter thought he was signing up for a proxy war in Europe with Russia, let alone a repeat of the Cold War and lurid nuclear rhetoric that can last at least as long as Putin is in office. position.
The shocking turn of events in Europe is a reminder that the best laid plans of presidents are always undone, and how the Biden administration has been held hostage to events beyond its control.
But it is questionable how long the war in Ukraine will remain in the attention of American voters given the struggles many face at home. If the war’s visibility fades as it degenerates into a protracted attrition conflict, Biden’s efforts to blame Putin for his economic setback will be more difficult.
And a president with a 41% approval rating, according to CNN’s latest average of recent national polls, will be vulnerable to another broad accusation from the GOP heading into the midterms: that he’s groping while the world burns.
Prolonged high inflation, a sense of economic malaise and a backdrop of global chaos would also sow fertile ground for Trump’s demagogic and populist nationalism as he prepares for a potential rematch with Biden in 2024.