ONLY naive souls or blind ideologues thought that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine would end well. It will not. And the longer it continues, the worse it will be for everyone.
Did Vladimir Putin actually believe that the West would accept his annexation of more Ukrainian territory? Or that Ukrainians would overthrow their leadership, replacing it with a pro-Russian government? Did the West, after dismissing US President Joseph Biden’s early warnings about Russian intentions, believe that belated outrage and displays of resolve would mobilise the world community forcing Putin to give up?
At this point, the Russians have invested too much prestige and resources to withdraw. Ukrainians’ national pride is at stake, plus justifiable fear of Russian intentions. They won’t just surrender and accept defeat.
Now in its fifth month, despite frequent reports of the Russian military’s exhaustion or a flagging Ukrainian resistance, no end is in sight and the widespread devastation of Ukraine continues. The reality is that no one can or will win this war.
Additional costs will only become apparent in the years to come – including the fate of millions of Ukrainian refugees, forced to flee their country or internally displaced. Only the naive assume that when the hostilities end, the refugees will simply return. And the longer the war continues, and the more damage done, the more refugees who will be unable or will choose not to return. Will countries who were initially welcoming remain so?
In addition, unanticipated geopolitical transformations are slowly beginning to take shape in response to this war. Immediately after the invasion, Biden spoke of a world united to oppose Russia. Weapons and aid were sent to Ukraine, and Nato countries enacted ever-expanding Russian sanctions. These crippling economic measures were to isolate Russia, devastate its economy, and bring the bear to its knees.
Some of these measures were necessary, others justifiable. Yet, the far-reaching economic measures and isolation efforts will have consequences, both intended and unintended.
The loss of Russian oil and gas and Russian-blockaded Ukrainian wheat are having a devastating impact on Eastern and Western economies and peoples. Unable to immediately transition, Russia has managed to recoup some of its losses by selling its vital resources in Asian markets. Because of restrictions on Russia’s ability to trade in dollars, they have demanded payment in roubles, giving their currency a needed boost.
Meanwhile, rising fuel and flour costs are destabilising countries, both rich and poor. And the scramble to find new sources of oil and gas are dangerously impacting critical climate goals.
Lacking trust in consistent US leadership after two decades of dizzying shifts in US policies, many nations have hesitated or outright refused to join a united front to oppose Russia.
US and other Western diplomats’ continued pressure on Latin American, Arab, and Asian countries to join their campaign to punish and isolate Russia have been politely rebuffed. These countries have reminded their Western interlocutors that they must place their own economic and geopolitical interests first just as many Western nations have done. One analyst has cynically described the emerging US/Nato coalition as “the West against the rest”.
The longer this conflict continues, the more fixed some of these emerging economic and political realities become, and the greater the danger that the world will become more deeply divided in a new Cold War. Relations will fray, economies will suffer, antagonisms will fester, and new conflicts will emerge.
Now we face the same choices as five months ago – either pouring more fuel on the fire or mobilising international pressure to forge a negotiated solution. Finding a way forward won’t be easy or even palatable. Sacrifices will be required and neither side will get what it wants. But it’s either that or a continued downward spiral to a divided and dystopian new world order – one we should seek to avoid at all costs.