No winners in war
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine showing no signs of abating, Tanya Vatsa assesses its far-reaching economic and humanitarian repercussions
Moscow redefined post-modern aggression with its ‘unprovoked’ and ‘unjustified’ invasion of Kyiv. Speculation over the cause has ranged from the threat of NATO reaching too close to the Russian border to Vladimir Putin’s ambitious goal of consolidating Russian supremacy over the former Soviet territory. While the reasons for such military action are much contested and undoubtedly multi-pronged, the wider impact is indisputable. It has benefited no-one.
In the current world order, where interconnectedness is intricately woven into the social, economic and political fabric, every action or inaction has effects that spill beyond borders and resonate globally. The invasion in Ukraine is no exception.
The aggression began in February 2022 and has continued ever since. As Moscow refuses to withdraw its troops, Kyiv is facing a disproportionately massive humanitarian crisis. The death toll is in the thousands, with Mariupol suffering the highest number of casualties. Critical infrastructure has been damaged, with roads, bridges and pipelines uprooted, schools and hospitals destroyed. Water, gas, electricity and internet services have seen severe disruptions, while shortages of medicines and food have significantly contributed to the upheaval.
A less discussed aspect of this war is the resulting trauma and its impact on survivors’ mental health. After the Russian withdrawal from parts of Kyiv, civilians told of war crimes committed by the invading forces. The experiences of the survivors ranged from unprovoked violence and torture to rape and sexual assault. Despite detailed accounts given by witnesses and victims, Moscow denies all such claims. Appalling as it is, there is very little scope for demanding accountability from the invading nation when the geopolitical power dynamics are tilted in favour of the aggressor.
Among the many other consequences of military assault are restricted human mobility and mass population displacement. In a world marred by escalating regional and ethnic conflicts, sudden outbreaks of novel diseases resulting in pandemics and rare natural disasters as the clock ticks towards impending ecological catastrophe, space for refugees and immigrants becomes ever scarcer. Constraints on resources and fears over submergence of land caused by rising sea levels only adds to the problem.
Furthermore, the conflict in Ukraine has adversely impacted the global economy, mainly through financial sanctions, increases in commodity prices and supply chain disruptions. The sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West have targeted energy imports from Russia, with resulting rising energy bills and record high inflation witnessed in Europe after Russia cut back on its gas deliveries. The European Union had already been working on reducing energy demand and has recently announced the possibility of issuing gas price caps if costs exceed 180 euros per megawatt hour. Moscow has accused Brussels of violating market pricing since the latter benefited from the energy shortage by increasing prices for its existing markets in the global East and South East. Extremes of temperature have only perpetuated energy demand; hence the toll on all importing economies is bound to intensify if prices are not controlled or import sources diversified. The surge in gas prices has also cumulatively increased freight costs for all modes of transport, further pressurising supply and demand channels and hindering trade. Russian blockades of Ukrainian ports have disrupted well established routes, thus necessitating re-routing and navigating new channels, with consequent increased costs.
Both Ukraine and Russia are wheat-exporting countries and the conflict has led to a decline in wheat harvests, raising prices and reducing the purchasing power of people in recovering economies. Most nations that import wheat from this region are developing and need the incoming produce to ensure food security. The post-pandemic world, amidst global recession, will find it difficult to adjust to the damaging consequences of unavailability and inaccessibility of food, especially those countries that rely heavily on wheat imports from Kyiv, such as Egypt, Turkey, Mongolia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.The trade restrictions have also disrupted the fertiliser market, with Russia being a major supplier. According to research conducted by the Centre of Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, the conflict could leave as many as 1.7 billion people in hunger and 276 million in severe food insecurity.
Ukraine has valiantly fought back against a global giant. Internal resistance within occupied Ukrainian territories has enabled Kyiv to win back some of its own areas and force Moscow to retreat. The West has supported Kyiv through supplies of arms and ammunition (and is thus the only beneficiary as it gets a new market for its domestically manufactured arsenal). While both sides have incurred military casualties, the losses suffered in Ukraine are incomparable.
Moscow’s tenaciousness and the helplessness of the larger international community has destabilised a sovereign country, violating its territorial integrity and the right of its citizens to live a dignified life. One of the larger repercussions is the creation of another geopolitically volatile zone on the map. An atmosphere of suspicion has arisen in the vicinity of Moscow as security for smaller states surrounding the Russian border hangs by a fragile thread. Finland’s bid to join NATO speaks volumes about the threat perception in the region. However, since it is widely believed that the issue of NATO membership lies at the very heart of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, surrounding sovereign states must be experiencing an unsettling sense of ‘doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t’.
As a new year dawns, the United States has ruled out an imminent end to the conflict, since Putin’s visit to Belarus threatens to open up a new front in the war. Moscow has set a dangerous example for larger nations that claim to coexist peacefully with their smaller neighbours.
History bears witness to the fact that war begets war and all sides suffer. As another cold war looms large on the horizon, in our multipolar world the global fallout will continue to be felt and renegotiating peace will be an arduous task.
Tanya Vatsa, a law graduate from National Law University, Lucknow and an incoming LLM candidate at the University of Edinburgh, is a former assistant advocate. She is currently a geopolitical analyst with The Synergia Foundation, an India-based think tank. Her writing on international relations has been published by the Diplomatist, International Policy Digest and The Kootneeti