Ukraine: Another global crisis

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

It is so distressing to know that just as there is good news regarding our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic with several studies indicating that booster shots will continue to offer protection against serious illness and even death for months and perhaps even years – once again we are entering another worldwide crisis with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In my column last week, I wrote that the last thing the world needs is another war considering that the global economy continues to be fragile. A lot of people could definitely relate with the sentiment of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he said that “this is the saddest moment of my tenure…” as he issued an appeal to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“In the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia. In the name of humanity, do not allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of the century, with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation, but with an impact we cannot even foresee in relation to the consequences for the global economy,” Guterres said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday immediately caused oil prices to soar to over $105 per barrel for the first time since 2014, while the global financial markets went tumbling down. Eastern European leaders as well as US President Joe Biden condemned Putin’s actions, using words such as “horrific,” “reckless,” “atrocious” and “barbaric” – and announced a wave of new sanctions that plunged the Moscow index to more than 30 percent and caused the Russian ruble to hit record lows.

Aside from the US, the UK, France and other European Union nations, Japan, Australia, New Zealand as well as Taiwan have also weighed in, with the sanctions aimed at Russian oligarchs and targeting financial institutions as well as the technology, energy and transport sectors, among many others. Many however feel that the sanctions are not strong enough and that the impact will be felt probably after several months. Besides which, the sanctions will not hurt Putin personally as he is reportedly sitting on a pile of cash and has prepared a war chest.

Nevertheless, several people admitted that the statement from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen could send shivers down one’s spine as she outlined the “massive and targeted sanctions” European leaders plan to impose: “These sanctions will suppress Russia’s economic growth; increase the borrowing costs, raise inflation, intensify capital outflows and gradually erode its industrial base.”

One of the main pillars of the sanctions would be to limit Russia’s access to crucial technology. “We want to cut off Russia’s industry from the technologies desperately needed today to build a future… and this ranges from high-tech components to cutting-edge software. This will also seriously degrade the Russian economy in all areas in the future,” von der Leyen warned, stressing: “It is president Putin who will have to explain this to his citizens. I know that the Russian people do not want this war.”

In fact, protests have erupted to show disapproval of the attack on Ukraine, with thousands of Russians taking to the streets in many cities that include Moscow and St. Petersburg, chanting “No to war!” Journalists have also issued an open letter denouncing the invasion, while activists utilized social media, urging people to engage in mass protest actions. Several celebrities and artists working in state-funded institutions have also reportedly quit their jobs in disgust. According to reports, more than 1,700 have been arrested amid warnings by Russian authorities about the legal consequences of staging protests.

What is also making the situation very poignant for people in Russia who have expressed disapproval of the attack is that they have relatives and friends in Ukraine – a nation that was once part of the Soviet Union until the people overwhelmingly voted in a referendum to become independent in 1991. And while becoming the world’s pariah may not really matter much to Vladimir Putin, Russians like Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov are dismayed at the thought. “Our peace-loving Russian people will now feel the hatred of the world because we are starting a third world war in the center of Europe,” he lamented.

Security experts and analysts say that the invasion does not only threaten Ukraine’s sovereignty but also the geopolitical order, warning that the attack on Ukraine could lead to aggression against other countries. As NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “Peace in our continent has been shattered… We now have a war in Europe, on a scale and of a type that we thought belonged to history.”

Even as the attack against Ukraine continues and its president says they have been left all alone to defend their country as powerful forces watch from afar, he called on Ukrainians to remain steadfast in their resolve to fight back against invaders. And although thousands have fled to neighboring European countries such as Poland and Hungary, Ukrainians said they will fight to the very end. In fact, weeks before the attack, women have been getting defense training, including how to handle firearms to help their army in any way they can. Social media posts are also circulating about a Ukrainian pilot nicknamed the “Ghost of Kyiv” who reportedly shot down six Russian fighters.

In the midst of all the uncertainty caused by the situation in Ukraine, one thing is certain: It is the people – both Russians and Ukrainians – who will suffer most in the end.

As a quote attributed to Winston Churchill put it, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”

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