The International Implications of the Russo-Ukrainian War
Background And Current Events
On 24 February 2022, all eyes were set on Eastern Europe as Russia invaded Ukraine. A few months earlier, in December, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decided to stifle Ukrainian Oligarchs that supported the Kremlin, Russian leader Vladimir Putin affirmed that Russians and Ukrainians were “one people.” With geopolitical tensions at an all-time high, the international community feared conflict. Two months later, the two countries, once banded together by the Soviet Union, were in military conflict. While Putin’s decision seemed somewhat reactionary to Zelenskyy’s action, it is essential to consider significant events before the conflict that occurred well over a year ago that contributed to the invasion.
On 1 December 1991, Ukraine achieved independence from the Soviet Union. Once a sovereign state, the country could make decisions for itself. The new nation had an immense presence in the global conversation, holding the world’s third-largest nuclear stockpile. In 1994, however, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances was signed in conjunction with Ukraine’s agreement to provide the Russian Federation with all Cold War nuclear weapons. The United States, Kremlin, and Britain committed to recognizing Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty and refrain from utilizing force against the nation. Assured by this agreement, Kyiv was persuaded and gave up its nuclear stockpile. Over a decade later, in 2008, Ukraine displayed its interest in NATO membership. A Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a prerequisite for a country to join NATO, a strategic military alliance between, at the time, 30 nations. In response to debates about extending a MAP to Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin clarified his stance, stating that Ukraine is “not even a real nation-state.” NATO rejected extending a MAP to Ukraine, and relations between Ukraine and Russia deteriorated.
In late 2013 and early 2014, Ukraine’s incumbent President Yanukovych, who pledged allegiance to the European Union in his previous term, changed his stance and shifted towards working with Russia. Widespread protests against governmental corruption erupted as Yanukovych’s political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, was controversially arrested. After protests in Maidan Square caused the deaths of 130 civilians, Yanukovych was forced out of Ukraine and fled to Russia; the new government reversed the former President’s shift to supporting Russia and committed to developing a solid relationship with the EU. Immediately after, Russia seized Crimea, a peninsula stretching out from the south of Ukraine between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which has a predominantly ethnic Russian population. The international community condemned Russia’s actions, and many large nations pledged to assist Ukraine. In 2019, when Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president, Russia was steadily opposed to the Ukrainian leader. Zelenskyy ran a campaign that promised to end the war with Russia and eliminate governmental corruption within Kyiv.
Thus, it is reasonable to hypothesize that Zelenskky did not explicitly cause Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine but rather a culminated response to multiple decades of history. In the status quo, tensions remain high, and the conflict continues, with Ukraine receiving international backing from powerful nations like the United States and Russia pressing on. Since the beginning of the war, tens of thousands of civilians’ and soldiers’ lives from both sides have been lost.
How Has The Rest Of Europe Responded?
Within Europe, the Russo-Ukrainian war has caused significant economic stress. After the conflict began, European Union nations began discussions to find the most effective course of action, settling on phasing out EU dependence on Russian products and securing domestically produced resources. EU leaders called for diversifying energy supply routes and sources to ensure stockpiles for all European countries while maintaining economic stability. Accounting for all the EU member states different circumstances, the Union accelerated the production and deployment of renewables. In 2021 Russia accounted for over 40% of the EU’s oil and gas imports. Considering this, EU nations agreed that reducing oil and gas demands and improving renewable technologies would safeguard against Europe’s historical energy dependence on Russia.
Russia’s invasion also significantly impacted the movement of people and products. Regarding people, the invasion created several logistical challenges, with nations struggling to provide passage to people due to airspace restrictions and border tensions. The large influx of refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries needing protection and support leaves those host nations with little time to prepare to provide immense assistance. Concerning products, several ports have shut down due to the war, causing a spike in shipping costs. With ships being rerouted into already congested paths and, in effect, cargo flow being delayed, prices within Europe and across the world for essential goods, like grains, have shot up. Struggles within ocean shipping have forced many European nations to shift to rail, where the same issues already exist and are propagated by the influx. More pressure on product transportation caused problems within Europe but has had a more notable impact on smaller, third-world countries with greater dependence on these vital resources.
The transatlantic alliance NATO, made up of 29 European nations and 2 North American countries, has had immense involvement in Ukraine. At the beginning of the war, NATO condemned Russia for its aggression and pledged support to Kyiv. Ukraine has long been a NATO ally but not a member nation; the relationship between the alliance and the country is highly cooperative but limited. Therefore, while NATO has helped partners deliver humanitarian and non-lethal aid to Ukraine, the organization has not been able to utilize security protections included in NATO’s founding treaty. As a result, the brunt of the assistance has come from individual NATO member nations, who are sending weapons, ammunition, and many types of military equipment. Today, allied forces are actively training Ukrainian troops to use this equipment. Allies are also providing financial assistance to Kyiv and are allowing Ukrainian citizens to seek refuge in their countries. NATO is actively working to enable exports of Ukrainian grain as food security becomes a more prominent issue abroad.
Some Eastern European nations are gaining strength and influence as the war continues. Poland and Romania have exponentially increased their defense spending, following plans to modernize and expand their military forces. The Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) are following suit and, in a few years, will be spending 2.5% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense. As the EU cracks down on Russia’s actions and increases sanctions on Moscow, Eastern European nations like Poland, Romania, and the Baltics are at the forefront of the effort, pushing for severe penalties. One neighboring country, Hungary, has seen its leader Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister, using the war as an opportunity. Orban fought for an exception in an EU embargo on Russian oil, reaching Hungary to continue reaping the benefits of trade with Moscow. The Hungarian leader even utilized his veto power on an aid package to Ukraine as leverage to remove a freeze on EU funds that had been placed on his government. This two-sided yet powerful regional dynamic suggests that Eastern Europe is pushing through the Russo-Ukrainian War quite well, focusing on their individual military and governmental development. This reality could be credited to Vladimir Putin; his aggression has pushed all neighboring countries to be prepared politically and militarily for conflict.
What Are The Implications Abroad?
The effects of the Russo-Ukrainian war abroad are detrimental. In terms of gas and oil, exports from Russia were the primary connection between the Kremlin and the West. As the conflict continues, the opportunity to return to the pre-invasion economic relationship diminishes, and the Western world is forced to domesticate the production of goods accessed previously from Russian trade. Still, dependence on Russia is too high for nations like the United States. Russia remains the world’s largest exporter of many products and resources, so regardless of the war’s outcome, companies are forced into an ultimatum: return to dependence on Russia and face immense backlash or find another source for essential resources which will be difficult.
Apart from the West, the rest of the world suffers from war, particularly regarding food. The ongoing conflict causes spikes in global food prices, primarily as access to grain is eliminated. Recently, Russia withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allows Ukraine to export grains to the remainder of the world. The disruption of the agreement disproportionately affects developing countries that are heavily dependent on grain imports. With the first international increase in wheat prices and India’s trade ban on several types of rice, the international community agrees that support from more powerful nations is imperative. Already, developing nations have been cautioned by the United States and other global powers to prepare for rapidly increasing food prices. Furthermore, the US announced support for developing countries struggling to bolster their strategies for ensuring food security and finding alternative ways to access grains.
Specific nations worldwide have been affected especially by the war. Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer has felt the effects of sourcing 70% of its wheat from the Black Sea. It is essential that Egypt continues to diversify its sources of wheat imports and look toward wheat alternatives that can be acquired elsewhere, to ensure that its people are provided with their primary source of food and for some, income. As the cost of staple foods rapidly increases around the globe, Yemen’s food insecurity issue has become more of a problem. Yemen depends heavily on food imports and international support to provide for its people; as exports from the Black Sea tank, it is critical for the global community to stand together and provide aid to the Middle Eastern nation. Lebanon, already in an economic crisis, has seen a recent surge in population growth (due to an increase in Syrian refugees fleeing into the country). Like Egypt and Yemen, Lebanon’s people depend on wheat and suffer from food insecurity. The nation doesn’t have the infrastructure to address its issues and in effect, must rely on support from other countries. It is important to note that the international attention on Ukraine has also turned eyes away from Afghanistan, where the Taliban has consolidated power and committed atrocities left largely unreported in the media.
Many nations worldwide depend on Eastern Europe as a trade source, however, issues in Africa have placed excess stress on some. In Somalia, the conflict between the government and Al-Queda-linked militants has prevented food from reaching hundreds of thousands. Displacement has left over 9 million struggling to access food; the battles with rebels have perpetuated this issue. Ethiopia, a country whose people depend on aid groups, has lost its primary source of food support due to the war. These aid organizations have reported a significant shortage of bread and oil. In effect, thousands have fled their homes in search of food sources. Unfortunately, these situations in Somalia and Ethiopia are not uncommon in Africa, with several other nations facing similar issues. It is imperative that international organizations such as the UN continue their efforts to support African nations as the conflict in Eastern Europe goes on.
Economies in Latin America are under immense stress due to the Russo-Ukrainian War. Since agriculture is a significant source of income for many Latin American nations, Russia’s dominance in the fertilizer trade has had tremendous implications for them. Brazil and Argentina have been forced to find an alternative to Russian fertilizer, choosing to increase dependence on countries like China and the United States. Russia’s invasion has also impacted the relationship between the United States and Latin American countries. The United States and Venezuela have been forced to transform their relationship from one that has been fraught for decades to one that is mutually beneficial. While the Trump administration pursued a policy of sanctions and aggression, the Russo-Ukrainian War has left the United States searching for alternatives to Russian oil. The Biden administration settled on Venezuela, easing sanctions to increase oil production and in return, receiving several US citizens that had been held captive in the Latin American nation. This shifting relationship displays the global strategic changes as the European conflict continues.
High geopolitical tensions have sparked an increase in defense spending abroad. Primarily, neighboring nations to Russia and Ukraine have upped defense spending; however, increases abroad suggest a shift in the balance of power. Regardless of the situation, high military spending is often perceived as threatening to neighbors, who are then pushed to respond with increases of their own. The Russo-Ukrainian War has, directly and indirectly, caused global changes that will transform future geopolitical situations. The implications of the war will only continue to develop internationally as the conflict continues.