Michael O’Hanlon is the Philip H. Knight chair in defense and strategy and director of the Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology at the Brookings Institution. Constanze Stelzenmüller is the director of the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings. David Wessel is the director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at Brookings. The authors comment individually on the data that they and their Brookings Institution colleagues have gathered below.
Ukraine has begun its long-awaited counteroffensive after withstanding a months-long and ongoing battering from Russian missiles and drones. Nine new Ukrainian brigades, totaling perhaps 30,000 troops, with modern armored vehicles and well-trained soldiers (though little air power) are moving into action. But because Russia has prepared for them, they face uncertain prospects. Even the recent Putin-Prigozhin melodrama might not change the standoff substantially — though it is too soon to be sure how Wagner mercenaries will perform with their former leader on the ropes.
Russia’s economy has limped along better than expected, even as price caps on its oil and gas exports have limited the country’s revenue. Ukraine continues to have strong backing from most NATO countries and other like-minded states, including a steady supply of weaponry and financial and humanitarian aid. Russia has so far received military aid only from the likes of Iran and North Korea.
NATO is not yet ready to welcome Ukraine into the alliance. Much hinges on how the war proceeds over the next few months.
O’Hanlon: Ukraine’s territorial division by share of land mass remains only slightly changed since last fall. Sustained Russian attacks through the winter and spring around Bakhmut, in Ukraine’s east, yielded only modest gains for President Vladimir Putin; Ukraine’s counteroffensive to date has also had only modest effects. Russia still holds just over 17 percent of Ukraine, including the 7 percent (Crimea and eastern Donbas) that it stole from Kyiv’s control before its full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24 last year.
Alas, that just over 17 percent includes a similar proportion of Ukrainian citizens, who now live under Moscow’s diktats. Russian authorities have forcibly deported to Russia more than 19,500 Ukrainian children from these occupied regions; for this, the International Criminal Court has charged Putin personally with war crimes. Casualties to date include perhaps 200,000 Russian soldiers and Wagner group mercenaries (up to one-quarter of them killed, the rest wounded), more than 100,000 Ukrainian fighters killed and wounded, and at least 40,000 Ukrainian civilians killed (and doubtless tens of thousands more wounded), according to estimates from the U.S. and European governments. After 16 months of war, the grand total from all sides is about 400,000 casualties — including about 100,000 dead.
Ukraine defenses stand firm
O’Hanlon: In the past 16 months of war, Russia has subjected Ukraine to various forms of bombardment. Beginning early last fall, Putin sought to bring fear and privation to Ukrainian cities — even those far removed from the front lines — by sending thousands of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. In recent months, Ukraine has claimed to shoot down 80 or 90 percent of incoming cruise missiles on any given day — after intercepting only about 10 percent in the war’s early months, and closer to 50 percent last summer. What’s now worrying is that Kyiv’s supply of air defense missiles might have fallen uncomfortably low. Yet, the Ukrainian people continue to show remarkable resolve. After months of attacks, only a small percentage say they favor negotiations to end the war before the rest of their country is liberated.
Economic silver linings emerged for Ukraine
Wessel: The price cap on Russian crude oil, an idea hatched in the U.S. Treasury Department in 2022 amid derision from industry experts, is achieving its twin goals: to maintain the flow of Russian oil to sustain the global economy and yet reduce the oil revenue that helps Russia finance its war. Embraced by the Group of Seven leading economies and Australia, all of which have stopped importing Russian oil, the cap permits tankers carrying Russian oil to other countries to tap essential British and European insurance and other maritime services only if the oil was purchased for no more than $60 a barrel. This cap has driven a wedge between the world oil price (Brent basket on the chart) and the price Russia receives (Urals).
Although China and India have not adopted the price cap, it enhances their bargaining power with the Russians — and has helped smaller oil-importing countries buy Russian oil cheaply. According to the International Energy Agency, Russian oil revenue in May was 7.8 million barrels a day, about the same as a year ago, but revenue was down 36 percent year over year.
To be sure, the decline in the global price of oil (Brent) since the beginning of the year — caused in part by slowing economic growth — has helped keep Russian revenue down. In any case, Russia’s diminishing revenue has yet to restrain Putin’s war machine. And there are increasing signs that Russia is finding ways to evade the cap by operating a “dark fleet” of tankers, some uninsured and some covered by Russian or Chinese insurers and using technological tricks to obscure their location.
Wessel: Ukraine’s public spending, around 60 percent of it going to the military, continues to far outstrip its revenue, but the central bank says it hasn’t printed money to finance the government for six months, and this has helped restrain inflation. Instead, grants and loans from the United States, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions have filled the hole. Foreign support and an increase in Ukraine’s foreign-currency reserves have also helped the government sell more bonds to domestic investors. And Kyiv is planning to roll back some of the costly emergency measures it put in place when Russia invaded. At the IMF’s urging, the government also plans to raise prices for heating and electricity before next winter. Nevertheless, Ukraine will remain heavily dependent on its allies’ financial support.
U.S. and Europe aid remained high
O’Hanlon: In assessing the support that outside countries have provided to Ukraine, two realities stand out. First, despite sometimes acrimonious debates over whether to supply Kyiv with tanks, fighter aircraft and longer-range missiles, the level of aid has remained high and steady by historical standards, with total assistance approaching $250 billion USD. Second, Europe has been even more generous than the United States, when all types of assistance are aggregated (even acknowledging that much of Europe’s financial aid is in the form of loans, not grants). Japan and several other non-Western countries have also contributed significantly.
One-quarter of Ukrainians remain displaced
Stelzenmüller: The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) records more than 5 million refugees from Ukraine globally, excluding Russia. More than 90 percent of them are in Europe. More than 5 million people remain internally displaced in Ukraine. The sharp increase in Russian missile and drone attacks since early May is forcing citizens into bomb shelters night after night, challenging their resilience. And the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine has created a humanitarian and ecological disaster of staggering scale that will hurt the country and the region for years to come.
President Volodymyr Zelensky is keeping the world focused on Ukraine
Zelensky’s speeches that targeted foreign audiences
Data as of June 22
Source: Official website of President of Ukraine, compiled by Brookings Institution
Stelzenmüller: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues his intense campaign of global outreach, making speeches online and, increasingly, in person. His visits to foreign capitals are often preceded or followed by major new aid packages. During Zelensky’s first wartime trip to Washington in December 2022, the United States committed an additional $1.85 billion of military aid, including one Patriot air defense battery and munitions. He took further trips in February and April. In May, Zelensky visited nine countries — in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia — meeting with leaders who have supported Ukraine’s defense and some who have not. Through this engagement, Zelensky aims to keep attention focused on the conflict and maintain international support.
The war has revitalized the role of international institutions
Stelzenmüller: The U.N. General Assembly has passed six emergency resolutions in support of Ukraine, with overwhelming majorities condemning the Russian aggression, expressing concern over the humanitarian consequences, defending the principle of territorial integrity, and urging a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.
The question remains, however, how best to stop Russian aggression and ensure Ukrainian security and stability in the future. NATO has just recommitted to Ukraine’s future membership, but it has also made it clear that it won’t be joining any time soon. The West looks set to continue extensive security and economic assistance for the foreseeable future.