Russia is no stranger to exploiting its influence as a superpower, having participated in a number of conflicts, namely the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion and subsequent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and now Ukraine itself. The latter has had a great impact on the global spectrum and has irreversibly deepened tensions between countries, particularly in the West.
Despite the Kremlin’s repeated denials of a forthcoming invasion, it came as no surprise when President Vladmir Putin announced his decision towards conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine. What followed was an all-out declaration of war from the country under the façade of a military operation, breaching Ukraine’s sovereignty and consequently impacting several key stakeholders.
The United States, despite not relying much on trade with Russia, is very much involved in the current crisis between the neighbouring countries. This is primarily due to the country’s history with Russia during the Cold War and NATO’s long-lasting relations with Ukraine. According to President Biden, "It's about standing for what we believe in, for the future that we want for our world, for liberty, the right of countless countries to choose their own destiny, and the right of people to determine their own futures, or the principle that a country can't change its neighbour's borders by force.”
Ukraine being one of, if not, the only functioning democracy of the post-Soviet states is of extreme importance to the US. It gives reason to protect the country as it broadens the superpower’s sphere of influence, promoting democracy and capitalism. Russian aggression in Ukraine has prompted the US and its allies towards imposing sanctions on the country, further exasperating the global economic crisis at a time when inflation is already rising at unhealthy rates.
Biden has expressed his extreme distaste and discontent towards Russia’s violation of international law. "Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences," he said, followed by an announcement of new sanctions on top Russian banks, elites, and family members. Most recently, the US has banned all Russian oil and gas imports, stating that the move targeted "the main artery of Russia's economy." This, however, was a double-edged sword, resulting in extreme spikes in both oil and gas prices in the West.
Meanwhile, consumer giants including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and many other American multinationals, in response to the war, have temporarily pulled out of Russia. Pepsi, which has a significantly greater presence in the country than its rival, has also halted production and sales in the aggressor state. It is impossible to predict when American business will continue in the country. In any case, it is unlikely that any change will occur anytime soon.
Standing alongside President Biden in the frontlines is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and similar to the US, the constitutional monarchy has few direct economic links to Russia. However, sanctions imposed by the West have had significant impacts on the UK’s economy, which was already stricken with high rates of inflation. Although the government has not been directly involved in the military conflict, the wider ramifications of the invasion has had a profound effect on the country.
Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK faced alarming food prices and energy bills that have now skyrocketed. After the invasion, international oil prices went from nearly US$ 6 per barrel to more than US$ 100— levels not seen since 2014 when Crimea was annexed by Russia. Due to Russia’s dominance in the oil and gas industry— being the world’s second-biggest producer and largest exporter of natural gas, energy sanctions from the West have drastically driven energy prices up in global energy markets. Gas prices are now more than 20 times higher than they were two years ago. In addition, Ukraine’s exports have also been halted as its Black Sea ports have closed and will remain so until Russian withdrawal. This has led to a sharp rise in grain markets, resulting in the price of staple products such as bread and pasta to increase.
Britain, very much like its allies further west, is in extreme opposition to Russia. According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in an opinion piece written for The New York Times, “Vladimir Putin’s act of aggression must fail and be seen to fail.” He later writes “It is now clear diplomacy never had a chance,” which is clear that diplomatic relations between both countries have utterly shattered. Boris recalls past instances of Putin’s ruthlessness and states how “We have failed to learn the lessons of Russian aggression.” Whilst presenting his six-point plan for Ukraine, Boris explicitly mentions strengthening NATO’s eastern flank and supporting non-NATO European countries that are at potential risk of Russian aggression, which may result in a win for the West in terms of solidifying diplomatic relations and villainizing Russia in the eyes of more countries at the same time.
As for Boris himself, after fighting for his political survival last month, some suggest that the Ukraine crisis “massively strengthens him” and provides him a crucial opportunity at reinventing himself. The war has put the brakes on attempts to remove him from his position of power, following several allegations citing instances of his irresponsibility, hypocrisy and mismanagement. Currently, the Prime Minister is playing a proactive role in supporting Ukraine, trying to broker Western action. The Prime Minister told reporters that the UK could potentially see hundreds of thousands of people come to the country, presenting the country’s efforts towards humanitarian aid.
Neighbouring the UK, Germany’s historically special diplomatic relationship with Russia has taken a blow by the latter’s escalation. The country initially had little to no response and was widely criticised for not supporting Ukraine despite pleas from the nation. Soon after, succumbing to international pressure (particularly from the West), the government reversed its ban on supplying lethal weapons to conflict zones and agreed to supply arms to Kyiv. In an effort to deter the conflict in Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his plans towards investing more than 2 percent of Germany’s GDP (US$ 113bn) in military spending due to safety concerns amid rising tensions around the region. Furthermore, Germany scrapped plans for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project it was pursuing with Russia, receiving appreciation from Ukrainian President Zelensky. The Kremlin's move also contradicts the Minsk Protocols, a series of policies towards peacemaking between Ukraine and Russia which Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel, mediated alongside France following the annexation of Crimea.
After unsuccessfully brokering a summit between Russia and the US, French President Emmanuel Macron warned Russia of an impending response to Russia’s invasion, which he described as a turning point in European history. In an address to the nation, Macron vowed a response “without weakness” to what he called an “act of war.” Additionally, with presidential elections around the corner, campaigns have now almost ground to a halt, which were already quite stagnant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Political shows have been replaced with news surrounding the ongoing conflict and candidates have brought their lobbying efforts to a halt. With the presidential vote’s first round approaching on April 10, it remains unclear what could happen as it is the first time in recent history that a presidential election is being undermined by foreign policy. Considering President Macron has opted for re-election on March 3, it is very possible that his approval rating could drastically change, similar to that of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Globally, in addition to negative impacts on the agriculture sector, the automobile and semiconductor industry will also face additional time in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as Russia is a leading supplier and manufacturer of the aforementioned goods. "Should the conflict escalate, the economic damage would be all the more devastating. The sanctions on Russia will also have a substantial impact on the global economy and financial markets, with significant spillovers to other countries," as stated by the IMF. These impacts are seen to be more prevalent in the Global South and in low-income countries.
Countries like India will face higher input costs for metals, fuel and edible oils such as sunflower oil, which will diminish, causing major increase in prices. In Africa, response to Ukraine’s invasion has shown to be extremely divided, with many countries following an impartial stance. Some oil-exporting countries in the region are in a favourable position now that sanctions have been imposed on Russia— providing them with a greater source of revenue. Russia also has strong trade ties with several key African economies like South Africa, Sudan, Egypt, and Nigeria. On the other hand, agricultural nations that heavily rely on oil exports are on the brink of entering an economic bottleneck as a result of increase in oil and natural gas prices. The African continent may also fall into food insecurity because of the rise in price in grains as a result of Russia and Ukraine’s combined 25% of world grain exports being put to a stop. This consequently prevents the African Union from acting in unison against the Russia-Ukraine war.
NATO has been adamant on not sending troops to Ukraine, setting up a no-fly zone, or directly engaging with Russia as Ukraine isn’t a member of the alliance. This is in accordance with Article 5 of NATO's charter on collective security, whereby its states agree to mutual defence in response to any external threat. Prime Minister Johnson explicitly stated that if just “a single toecap of a Russian soldier” stepped into NATO territory, then “it will be war with NATO and NATO would respond.”
Ironically enough, NATO’s interventions in Kosovo, Libya, and several other non-member states were in clear violation of the aforementioned article, which suggests that there are other reasons as to why they are not directly involving themselves in the ongoing conflict. NATO has said that intervening will most definitely lead to a war all round Europe, which is extremely undesirable for all member nations. Also, Russia has explicitly stated that they will resort to nuclear warfare if threatened by the West. The alliance has deployed thousands of additional defensive land and air forces in the East and has activated its defence plans in case Russia attacks a member. NATO is currently aiding in coordination efforts, ensuring delivery of humanitarian and non-lethal aid, weaponry, ammunition, medical supplies, and other vital military equipment from its member states.
Most recently, the United Nations General Assembly, in a clear majority vote, demanded that Russia immediately stop its offensive and withdraw all troops from Ukraine. In the same meeting, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called for peace and reaffirmed his pleas on Twitter, saying ‘We need peace now.” The UN has been criticised and mocked for its severe mishandling of the entire conflict, resorting to Twitter and non-binding resolutions instead of taking appropriate action— which has led to many questioning its role in present geopolitics.
The war continues, with the West spending billions on humanitarian assistance to support Ukraine and its citizens at risk of collateral damage. The US has, along with USAID and its other aid agencies, donated nearly US$ 293 million in humanitarian assistance since late February, being the largest single-country donor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Similarly, the EU has provided over US$ 2.5 billion since the beginning of the conflict in 2014, further assigning an additional US$ 547 million for humanitarian aid in Ukraine this month. Aid organisations such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF have been proactive in humanitarian efforts, with the former focusing on large-scale emergency food assistance and the latter investing a total of US$ 349 million towards assisting children and families.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen dire consequences around the world, with little to no progress towards de-escalation being imminent. As spoken by President Biden, “When the history of this war is written, Putin's war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.”
Edited by Thenthamizh SS and Veda Rodewald
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