Review of Russia-Ukraine War | Crisis Galore and Global Rebalancing – Part 2

| Isha Tripathi
  • The West’s superiority complex is one of the root causes of this war. The west simply refuses to engage with others on an equal level. 
  • The West doesn’t treat Russia, or India, or China, or any African or Asian country with due equality. 
  • Had the West given due consideration to legitimate Russian security concerns, even the 2008 war on Georgia could’ve been avoided. 

(This is the 2nd article in the 2-part series reviewing the Russia-Ukraine War. The first part can be read here)

Ukraine’s devastation is for the world to see. So is the decline in the Russian economy. It is estimated that this war will set the Russian economy back by at least thirty years. The divide between Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine has hardened, as has that between Russia and Ukraine. Europe is trying hard to balance irreconcilable objectives- punish Russia, buy Russian energy, help Ukraine, not push Russia into escalating the war further. Russia is in talks with Iran, and US imposed sanctions on Venezuela were lifted to allow Europe to buy fuel from it. The situation is still developing, but all-in-all, it appears the war will reset various equations in global politics. 

  1. Food crisis

Russia is the largest exporter of grains and fertilizers like urea, potash, ammonia etc. Ukraine was the largest exporter of sunflower oil, and placed fourth in export of wheat and corn. The war has disrupted the supply of this basic necessity, and warning bells for a severe global food crisis have been rung. Food commodity prices have already surged. Lack of fertilizers will further lower the yield in the coming seasons. The situation is especially problematic for African nations as they have been majorly dependent on Russia and Ukraine for their grain supply. Food shortage here can easily erupt into social unrest and civil war like situations. Reports suggest that there is at least 20 million tonnes of wheat in Ukraine that was bound to North Africa and the Middle-East pending negotiations for safe passage through the Black Sea. Western sanctions on Russia mean that its grains and fertilizers are not moving either. The Food and Agriculture Organization has predicted a food crisis for almost forty countries as a result of this war. This is a rather grim situation. 

Recently, Russia shut down the Nord Stream for maintenance, stating that the required turbine isn’t available to them due to western sanctions. Canada has agreed to temporarily lift sanctions and provide Russia with the equipment. If this can happen, then the self-proclaimed torch-bearers of humanity should also make exceptions in their sanctions to ensure resumption of food supplies. Europe says there is no sanction on grains, but the sanctions on Russian banks and shipping has made trading with it next to impossible. But the woes of countries like Yemen, Libya, Sudan hardly ever find a place in the west’s list of concerns, or even in most discussions about the war’s impacts.   

  1. Economic crisis

In tandem with the impending food crisis, a potential economic crisis is also in the making because of the ongoing confrontation. The foremost concern is that of Europe’s supply of fossil fuels as Russia is its biggest supplier. Even in the midst of the Russia-Ukraine war, the EU bought 61 percent of Russian fossil fuel exports. Russia has already stopped gas supply to Bulgaria, Poland and Finland as they did not meet its demand for payments in rouble. But these countries don’t depend on gas to meet their energy needs as much as other European countries like Germany, Italy, France and Hungary. Additionally, the gas pipelines running through Ukraine (Brotherhood and Soyuz) have been impacted. 

Russia supplies almost half of Europe’s energy requirements. Supply disruptions will increase the prices, and rise in oil and gas prices has a cascading effect on the entire economy. Fuel is needed for everything- heat generation, transport, power, running industries. It is not possible to end this dependency in a blink. This is why European leaders have not complied with Ukraine’s and US’ demands for complete ban on oil and gas imports from Russia. The EU accounts for around fifteen percent of global trade. Four countries- Germany, UK, France and Italy are among the ten largest economies in the world. Destabilisation in the European economy will have global ripple effects. Along with being the largest supplier of fossil fuels and grains, it should also be mentioned that Russia is also the largest supplier of metals like aluminium, nickel, cobalt, platinum etc. Disruptions in Russia’s supply chains have already begun causing global inflation. The sanctions are especially problematic for Central Asian countries as their economies are closely integrated with the Russian economy. 

  1. Global rebalancing

Global politics has been in a state of flux for almost a decade now, and this war has added another dimension to that rebalancing. There are several aspects to this issue. In the coming times, it is most likely that Russia’s alignments within Asia will be enhanced. Europe will have to rethink and rejuvenate its security capacities. China and Russia will come closer together, which will change equations within Asia, and with the USA. 

Europe

First, the crisis has brought the European countries closer together. In the face of events like Brexit, analysts had begun pondering over the idea that maybe collective European mechanisms have run their course. NATO and the EU have their own internal power dynamics at play. While Britain had mostly aligned its foreign policy with that of the US; some like Austria and Malta chose neutrality (they are a part of EU but not NATO); others such as France and especially Germany had chosen to pursue foreign policies more insulated from American influence. So we see the development of trade relations with Russia and China, both of which aren’t considered America’s friends. Both France and Germany had opposed Ukraine’s NATO bid in 2008. Germany even went ahead with the Nord Stream 2, despite Russia overtaking Crimea. In January this year, Germany prevented Estonia from exporting German weapons to Ukraine. 

The presence of an eminent enemy on the outside has re-emphasized the need to step closer together, and has underlined the importance of NATO.  More countries are now eager to join it, like Finland and Sweden. The war has also shown that Europe is very much dependent on the USA for its security needs. Russia has opened yet another chapter of relative international isolation in its history since its weaponization of fuel has not been taken lightly by Europe. At the same time, the war has exposed European weaknesses and its limits, and has forced Europe to bring about major re-adjustments, both short term and long term. The war has also dented Europe’s popular image to some extent because European reassurances to Ukraine in face of threats and warnings issued from the Kremlin before the current escalation have not translated into action in full measure. They’ve undoubtedly extended great help to Ukraine with sanctions against Russia, weapons and intelligence sharing, but have ultimately prioritized their economic considerations over Ukrainian sovereignty. 

China

Second, the war has largely been favourable for China. Before the onset of this war, China’s role in causing the Wuhan virus pandemic had meant that it was increasingly being viewed as the primary troublemaker in the world. Issues such as the persecution of Uighur Muslims which were just brushed under the carpet earlier were being mainstreamed. Thanks to its attack on Ukraine, Russia has pinned the primary target on its own back yet again. 

Because of China’s good relations with Russia, western powers have softened their stance against China to be able to enlist its help in negotiating with Moscow. China has increased its fuel and wheat purchases from Russia, which means that it is getting these crucial commodities at discounted rates, and at the same time is indebting Russia with a favour. Chinese government mouthpieces have called the recent surge in its trade with Moscow as a lifeline for Russia. Furthermore, economic troubles in Europe would mean its dependency on China will further increase as it is their leading trading partner. On a more distant but disturbing line of argument, it is not unimaginable that China won’t take a leaf out of the Russian playbook. Much like Russia, China does not adhere to liberal values, it does not shy from use of force, its foreign policy has irredentist principles, and it has economic leverage over the affluent west. 

India

Third, India has kept its distance from the battle, displaying its characteristic knack for balancing. It cannot afford to fallout with either Europe or Russia. Even though the west tried to guilt India into adopting an anti-Russian stance, New Delhi held its position, and called out the European double standards India is so used to facing. While maintaining its preference for peaceful negotiations over violent means to settle issues, India has maintained that the matter primarily concerns Europe, and Europe’s problems are its own; and that India follows an independent foreign policy most suited towards fulfilling its own national interests. 

Given history, and given the state of relations with neighbour China, it is unfair to expect India to participate in vilification of Russia and jeopardize its relations, and that too in favour of the west that has never been enthusiastic about India’s interests and well-being. India is a developing country with the second largest population in the world and with negligible energy resources of its own. So, if Russia is offering it cheaper oil, India is looking after its self-interests in not refusing. The fact that this hasn’t attracted sanctions yet says something about the upward mobility of India in global politics. India’s confident rebuttal of Europe’s hypocritical accusations and rebukes indicates that New Delhi is willing to make choices that might not sit well with the west. Reduction of international pressure on China is a loss for India. Russia’s enhanced bonding with China, and its dependency on it for market for its exports is also potentially harmful for Indian interests, but the situation is yet to unfold.   

USA

Fourth, the war has no considerable adversity in store for the USA. If anything, it has come with several positives for it. Since the onset of this war, major American energy companies like Philips 66, Chevron Corporation, Exxon Mobil, etc and weapons companies like Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin have increased sales. America will increase its export of shale oil and gas to Europe as they seek to rapidly end their dependence on Russia. 

The USA never really stopped considering Russia as a threat. Even if Russia manages to subdue Ukraine, its economy will suffer from sanctions and loss of market, which basically translates into a diminished status for Russia. America will be glad with this outcome. It would be apt to mention here that Russia has accused the USA of supporting anti-Russia forces in Ukraine for a long time now. In fact, the US embassy was providing huge funds to sustain the Euromaidan protests that forced out President Yanukovych. There is no surprise to this allegation because the US has been known for destabilizing non-favourable regimes several times through similar means. It also needs to be remembered here that it was the USA, not Europe that was pushing for NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. 

At the same time, Europe’s dependence on the US for meeting its energy and security needs has and will increase, which will give more leverage to Washington to ensure Europe’s support for its foreign policy decisions and goals. Another possible advantage for the USA further down the line is that the increasing closeness of Russia with China can be used as a reason to escalate the trade war with China whom America considers its primary economic rival. 

Conclusion

A vital point to ponder over at the end of this discussion is- what does Russia stand to gain out of this war? In a scenario where Ukraine agrees to hand over Donetsk and Luhansk to Russia, it gains easy access to the Black Sea. The presence of its naval fleet here using Sevastopol port in Crimea had been a bone of contention between the two warring nations previously. So, in this case Russia will gain geo-strategic depth, and will perhaps also succeed in keeping NATO away from Ukraine so it remains a buffer state. However, the animosity that Ukraine will now hold against Russia is a disadvantage to it. On the flip side, Russia has invited new, more severe sanctions on itself; it has lost a very affluent market for its oil and gas which is most likely irreplaceable, and has also lost the leverage that came with being the primary supplier to this market; its economy will face a huge setback which will likely create internal disturbances; it has lost more men than it cares to admit; it will face relative isolation in the global community; it has pushed other countries into the arms of NATO; its failure to capture Kiev despite having a considerable upper hand has dented its powerful image; and no matter its reasons for going to war with Ukraine, Moscow cannot justify acts like Bucha. So, what are the Russian gains? At the bare minimum, if its economy cannot revive, Russia’s Ukraine siege will end up being a huge and costly mistake.

Enough discussions also need to happen on Europe’s complacency in continuing the war. The war has shown that Europe is most unwilling to prioritize anything above its own comforts. The war was allowed to escalate in the first place because in order to maintain flourishing trade relations with Russia, key European countries kept allowing concessions to Russia, despite its prolonged aggressive stance on Ukraine, and despite repeated intelligence sharing from the US warning of the arrival of this war. Russia is able to fund this war because they continue to buy huge amounts of Russian fuel. They even pick and choose lifting and re-imposing sanctions to suit their needs. The latest example of Canada sending turbines to Russia has been mentioned above. But they look the other way when poorer countries don’t even have enough food for their citizens, and they face imminent starvation because of the war and the sanctions. Despite all this, guided by their superiority complex, they lecture the rest of the world on freedom, democracy and humanity. Even the World Health Organization’s head drew attention to this by comparing the reactions on the Ukraine crisis with the ones in Ethiopia and Yemen, stating that the world does not pay equal attention to black and white lives.

The war displayed the west’s double standards galore. Russia cites the following reasons for its attack on Ukraine- rescuing a persecuted minority (read Human Rights), Kiev’s desire to build nuclear weapons, foreign interference causing internal disturbances, democracy, corruption, self-defence- every single one of these reasons has been employed by USA for similar acts in the past, and Europe has backed it. So, it is justified when they do it, but a horror when some other actor decides to employ the same tricks. It is interesting to note here that a vast majority of the literature being produced on the Russia-Ukraine war traces Russia as the cause of all that troubled Ukraine, even the Odesa murders were pinned as a possible Russian conspiracy. At the same time, any anti-Russian sentiments, protests such as the one in 2014 are presented as the ‘free and true will’ of the Ukrainian people.  

This superiority complex is one of the root causes of this war. The west simply refuses to engage with others on an equal level. The pretence of equality is often there, but in fact there is no equality. They don’t treat Russia, or India, or China, or any African or Asian country with due equality. Had they given due consideration to legitimate Russian security concerns, even the 2008 war on Georgia could’ve been avoided.

(The views expressed are authors own)

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