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Hal Brands

A Long War in Ukraine Could Bring Global Chaos

Kyiv has reason to hope it can prevail, but Vladimir Putin’s efforts to seed global economic trouble could weaken international support.

This could last a long time.

This could last a long time.

Photographer: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

The war in Ukraine has become a brutal, grinding contest of attrition. As the conflict drags on, the question becomes, which side does time favor? Kyiv is betting that its leverage will increase as an isolated Russia comes face to face with economic and military ruin. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wager is that he can devastate Ukraine even with a weakened army, while using the threat of global economic chaos to sever Kyiv’s lifeline to the outside world. Each side is trying to bleed and batter the other into submission, a dynamic that will fuel far-reaching instability — and present the US with nasty challenges.

In recent weeks, the fighting has occurred primarily in eastern Ukraine. Russia is using hellacious artillery barrages and methodical attacks to slowly seize more territory, in hopes of fully “liberating” the Donbas region. Ukraine is hanging on, inflicting terrible casualties while also suffering, by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s own admission, heavy losses.