FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Protecting civilians in a war zone is clearly not part of Russian military doctrine.

As the details of the murders in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are revealed, the atrocities become more jarring. Moscow tried to dismiss accusations of war crimes, claiming the evidence was staged. Satellite photos, however, show the corpses littering the streets were there while Russian forces were still in control of the town.

The Ukrainian president delivered a powerful speech before the UN Security Council, showing video of the atrocities committed against his people. He claimed Russian troops killed civilians for their own entertainment. Women were raped and killed in front of their children, their tongues slashed off when they protested. He challenged the powerful UN body to live up to its mandate of assuring the world security.

Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and enjoys a veto over what it can and cannot do. That veto kept the Council stymied in addressing present and past war crimes allegations against the country.

The record, however, has been outrageous.

When Russia waged war on separatists in Chechnya, her troops opened fire on civilians wantonly. The UN described Grozny, capital of Chechnya, as “the most destroyed city” on earth. To this day, the world has not been given an accurate casualty toll of that brutal war of suppression.

When Russia invaded Afghanistan and occupied the country for nine years, the toll on civilians was horrible. About a million Afghan civilians were killed by Russian bombing. Thousands were summarily executed.

When Russia intervened in Syria to save the brutal Assad regime, her troops bombed the ancient city of Aleppo until very little was left of it. Aleppo, once the terminal point of the Silk Road that stretched from Xi’an in China, can never be rebuilt to its old glory. The Assad regime persists only because of Russian support.

In several countries in Africa, Russian mercenaries organized under the Wagner regiment, were sent in to crush rebellious movements. The regiment’s reputation for brutality is chilling.

This is clear: the Russian military has not been trained to observe international treaties governing the conduct of war and the protection of noncombatants. Today, there is fear that Putin’s invading army could resort to chemical and biological weapons against Ukraine’s resisting cities. The atrocities committed by Russian troops in the town of Bucha could, indeed, be just the tip of the iceberg.

The new evidence of Russian brutality against the civilian population in Ukraine has invited calls for even more sanctions against the Putin regime. The prospect of additional sanctions unsettled the global market. Stocks fell and the price of oil and gas sharply rose. There is pain in store for everyone.

A consensus appears to be building to ban Russian oil and gas exports. Germany, hugely dependent on energy imports from Russia, has so far succeeded in preventing such a ban from happening. But as evidence of Russian savagery mounts, Germany might have to bite the bullet and take the costs.

There is a point where unacceptable behavior will have to be recognized as such.


We, too, cannot escape the costs.

Earlier this week, the Philippine Statistics Authority pegged inflation for March at 4 percent. That is at the very upper limit of our target range. Analysts expect the inflation rate to surge in the coming weeks.

The main inflation driver is fuel prices. Although we had a small rollback in pump prices this week, the Energy Secretary warns prices will resume their climb in the foreseeable future.

The cost-push of food prices will help lift the inflation rate. Russia and Ukraine account for a substantial portion of global wheat production. Russian exports are now choked by sanctions. One in four Ukrainians is displaced and there will be hardly any agricultural production in this country this year.

The World Bank warns that 1.1 million more Filipinos could slip under the poverty line if cereal prices rise by 10 percent this year. It is nearly guaranteed that will happen. We face not only a price but also a supply shock further down the road as the war in Ukraine threatens to become a protracted one.

Rising cereal prices will compound what we have to pay for fuel. Congestion and disruption in the world’s supply chains compound things even more. We are looking at a much longer period of elevated inflation. This will tell on our ability to grow out of the pandemic-induced rut.

Professing neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war will not spare us from the inflationary kick this needless conflict brings the world. It will not translate into comparatively cheaper oil. It will not produce flour deliveries to keep bread prices from rising.

There is a global consensus regarding this unprovoked invasion. It is an act of aggression against a peaceable state.

There is a moral consensus regarding the Russian army’s brutality. That consensus calls for active defense of the rules of basic civility.

The Philippines has an interest in this conflict. We want an international order where nationhood is respected and international boundaries observed. We want strong rules that protect weaker nations against aggressive powers, civilians against the brutality of invading armies.

There will soon be another vote at the UN General Assembly condemning the atrocities committed against defenseless people. Our diplomats, as in the previous vote, will side with the majority.

We have an interest in a quick return to the status quo ante. This will ensure the economic fallout from this war will not worsen.

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