The Ukrainian turmoil: What may come next?
Rai Ahmad Kamal
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a ripple effect across the globe. It has not only impacted Ukraine but its jolts are being felt at every level around the world. Since the formation of the European Union, it has always been thought that there will be no major war in Europe due to economic liberalization and economic interdependence, but the incumbent Russo-Ukraine conflict has altered this perception. Besides, this crisis has also revealed another major reality that economic interdependence can’t prevent war. The west backed by the US put many sanctions on Russia after this conflict although the majority of the European countries were dependent on Russian oil and gas for their 35% energy needs. This tells that economic sanctions can be the cause of war but can’t prevent the war. When Russia invaded Ukraine it was thought that it would cripple the Ukrainians within days and Ukraine would be left with no option except to subdue before Moscow. But it’s been six months, yet this deadly war has not come to its end. Both sides have paid a heavy toll in terms of casualties and the economy. It isreported that 20 thousand Russian soldiers, 9 thousand Ukrainian soldiers, and 5500 civilians have been killed in this conflict. On the other hand, the war has forced 6.6 million Ukrainians to become refugees in neighboring countries. The conflict between both countries is not new. It started back in 2014 when Russian-backed Ukrainian president Vicktor Yanokovich rejected a deal for greater economic integration with the European Union. The Ukrainian Parliament was in favor of this integration so a parliamentary coup and public protests against the president forced him to leave the country and he found refuge in Russia.In march 2014, Russia took control of the Crimea region before formally annexing it after the Crimean voted to join Russia in a disputed local referendum. Russia further sponsored anti-government protests in eastern Ukrainian regions of Donbas and Luhansk to have strong footholds in those regions. Bothcountries continued exchanging skirmishes but the Minsk agreement held a ceasefire between both. Onthe other hand, Ukrainian aspirations to join NATO, and increasing security threats for Russia further downgraded relations between both countries. Russia also warned NATO to let Ukraine not be a part of it because it would be an unequivocal violation of the 1991 Washington Accord which restrained NATO from further expansion, especially towards eastern Europe. In 2021, Ukraine with 8 member countries of NATO held military exercises which escalated Russia’s aggression and increased its security fears. Considering such fears Russia began moving its troops in April 2014 towards its borders and it managed to move 175,000 troops to its borders till December 2021. In January 2022 Putin held a meeting with Biden to bar NATO from further expansion but it remained unsuccessful. On 22nd February, Russia declared the independence of two Pro Rusian regions of Donbas and Luhansk. On 24th February, Russia finally invaded Ukraine and since then both countries have paid a heavy toll in terms of human lives. Besides, the Russian air strikes have converted industrial Ukraine into rubble. It is estimated that Ukraine would require at least $350 billion for its revival.Till the mid of August, Russia was advancing in Ukraine and it captured the Kharkiv region of Ukraine after that Ukrainian army aligned itself and not only restrained Russia’s move further but also pushed the Russian army back, and on 6 September liberated the Kharkiv region. The Russian army suffered a heavy loss which compelled the Russian army to move back to its initial days’ positions. According to many analysts, it was a major defeat for Putin since the beginning of the conflict. On the other hand, this victory helped the Ukrainian army to boost its morale so that they can not only win the war but can also regain their captured areas. But all this depends on the support of the West in terms of military hardware, financial support, and Western intelligence which helped the Ukrainian army to identify the positions of the Russian soldiers. The war between both countries has put a dangerous cascading impact on the world’s economy which has already been hammered by the pandemic and climate change. This war has caused a significant disruption in the supply chains of food, energy, and agricultural products. Ukraine and Russia are considered the breadbasket of the world. Both countries supply 30% of the wheat to the rest of the world. Almost 26 nations are dependent on both countries for more than half of their wheat imports. But the disruption in supply chains has resulted in hikes in prices all over the globe. According to FAO, food prices are 34% higher than this time last year and have never been so high since FAO started measuring them. Developing countries are facing severe threats of food shortages due to this war. Pakistan also used to import 39% of wheat from Ukraine but now the situation is getting worse due to floods and inflation. Furthermore, this war has impacted the European countries in terms of energy. Russia limited the supply of gas to European countries in response to the West’s sanctions on it. As a result, all the European countries are facing inflation due to industrial gas cut-offs. Poland, Germany, and Austria are facing inflation at a rate of 8%, 11%, and 9% respectively. On the other hand, the war has revealed some of the major realities such as; this war has ended the unipolar moment. Now the US is not only the hegemone. The US hegemony has been challenged by China for the last decade. This era has again become the era of multipolarity and the blocks have once again become relevant. This conflict has pushed Russia closer to China and China didn’t condemn the Russian invasion and stressed resolving the conflict diplomatically which is a violation of Chinese five principles of peaceful coexistence comprising mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, peaceful coexistence, mutual non-aggression, and equality and mutual benefit. Besides this China also directed its media outlets to not post anything against Russia. On the other hand, Russia and China have signed an agreement to trade in their currencies which is a big blow to the dollar. In addition to that, the future course of action of this conflict also reveals some of the possible scenarios which could be as; Russia wants to prolong the war till winter so that it may get more leverage on Europe through the monopoly of gas which is supplying arms to Ukraine. Russia will sell a limited supply of gas at a higher price to Europe which will result in industrial cutbacks and shutdowns of the industries leading to unemployment and high inflation. It will result in anti-government protests to negotiate with Russia. Another possible scenario could be a ceasefire between both countries with the help of major powers. Recently China has shown its willingness to mediate between both countries. In the recent 77th session of the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Antonio Guettress in his opening statement also stressed ending this conflict which is pushing the world towards a global recession. Another scenario is that this conflict will breed an arms race in the world. Countries will go for acquiring more sophisticated weapons which will be the guarantor of their security and deterrence for the other countries due to the factor of mutual destruction. Another scenario is that the conflict will become intensified due to the referendum being held in the Donbas and Luhansk regions of Ukraine by Russia to make both regions part of Russia. This will give Russia an opportunity to have strong footholds in Ukraine. Ukraine and the western countries have rejected this referendum so the western countries will supply more weapons to Ukraine to crush the Russian army’s goals. Furthermore, there is another scenario that cannot be negated and that is the regime change in Russia. Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilisation of 300,000 reservists in this war because the Ukrainian army has regained 8000km^2 area from the Russian army including regions of Kharkiv, Izyum, and Southern parts of Ukraine including Mykolaiv and Kherson. After the announcement of Putin, anti-government protests started in the various cities of Russia and almost 15000 people have been arrested. There are signs of cracks in the ruling elite and private oil group Lukoil openly calling up to end this fight. So the opposition and the US CIA can leverage this situation and Putin could be deposed. There could be another possibility of Russo-NATO confrontation if this conflict spreads. If the Russian army crushes Ukraine then according to western scholars, Putin might be eyeing Moldova, a former Soviet state wedged between Ukraine and Romania. This will escalate the situation and the US-led NATO wouldn’t let Putin fulfill his territorial ambitions and will bring both into a confrontation that might trigger WWIII. The Uraine conflict might change the International System and the whole global order. This war has also shifted the US from Indo-Pacific to Ukraine to some extent. The Biden administration’s main foreign policy goal is to contain China and to achieve this national security goal the US is aligning the Europeans in the Indo-Pacific to contain China. But the Ukraine imbroglio is distracting the US from its prime goal. In this quagmire, if the US proves to be soft on Russian designs it will give Europeans a justification to build their military architecture and it will create a rift between the US and the Europeans which the AUKUS has already created to some extent. Considering the impacts of the Pandemic and Climate change which have resulted in high inflation across the globe the powerful leaders and the United Nations must play a proactive role to stop this turmoil.