Anastasiya Ringis is a Ukrainian journalist temporarily based in Ottawa.
Russia has been fighting a war in Ukraine – but the conflict is very much a global one.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long deployed global reliance on his country’s energy as a geopolitical weapon, but his assault against Ukraine has led fuel prices to skyrocket universally, raising the cost of living in almost every part of the world. In response to the sanctions imposed by the West, Russia has stopped supplying gas to countries it calls “unfriendly” and has demanded payments in rubles. European countries that have been reliant on Gazprom, the massive Russian majority-state-owned energy company, are scrambling to search for alternative supplies, but the transition hasn’t been straightforward; many are still fuelling the Russian war machine to the tune of billions of euros a month. Just last week, Gazprom told European importers that it cannot guarantee gas supplies because of “extraordinary” circumstances, setting the stage for potential tit-for-tat shortages to come.
Russia’s manipulation of oil and gas supplies has forced fossil fuel producers elsewhere to increase production – an increase that hasn’t even been able to meet global demand, nor bring global prices down. This also all runs counter to broader efforts around the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions, to try to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. As a result, almost every household in the West is effectively paying the bill, in one way or another, for Mr. Putin’s invasion.
That war threatens countries outside specific geographic borders, too. Kremlin propaganda and disinformation has repeatedly stressed that even though the war theatre is in Ukraine, Russia’s true enemy is the West at large, including the European Union and NATO. Mr. Putin has called economic sanctions “barbaric and aggressive,” comparing the West at large to Nazi Germany amassing power against Russia before the Second World War, while claiming the war that he started is part of a larger plot involving “the invasion of our land, including Crimea.” That means Western and allied countries on both sides of the Atlantic are potential targets of Russian aggression.
That aggression could be enormously damaging because of the nuclear power at play. In March, not long after Mr. Putin told Russia’s military officials to put its nuclear forces in a “special regime of combat duty,” Zaporizhzhya NPP – the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world – was taken over in a shockingly dangerous operation by Russian forces. However, because most of the plant’s six pressurized water reactor units use nuclear fuel from the U.S.-based energy firm Westinghouse, Russian engineers cannot manage the plant; Ukrainian staff have been operating it for months. The International Agency for Atomic Energy has not been able to visit the plant because of the military conflict.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has also brought global food security to a dangerous point. Mr. Putin’s navy has cut Ukraine off at its sea ports, blocking its grain exports from the 400 million people around the world who rely on the country’s food supplies. And less than a day after Moscow and Kyiv signed a Turkish-and-UN-brokered deal to allow grain exports to resume from Ukraine’s southern Black Sea ports, Russian missiles struck the Odesa port, all the same.
Perhaps even worse, there have been reports that Russian troops have been stealing grain and destroying Ukrainians’ farms and equipment in Russian-occupied territory. This appears to borrow from the worst tactics in the playbook of the Soviet Union’s interior ministry, 90 years after Joseph Stalin orchestrated a famine in Ukraine in the 1930s.
While the Kremlin has claimed the West has provoked this conflict, the reality is that the Russian government’s outdated imperialistic rhetoric has fuelled it. Vladimir Putin has even compared himself to the czar Peter the Great, the first Russian emperor and the first conqueror of Ukraine. And by invading neighbouring Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, while propping up Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, Russia has spent the past three decades disrespecting the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty that are fundamental to the postwar order. As a result, the Western Balkan region in Europe is at high risk of destabilization, as is the Arctic region – a major threat to Canada’s national interests.
Finally, the alleged ways in which the modern Russian army has fought the war undermines an internationally shared understanding of basic human rights. Numerous barbaric atrocities have allegedly been committed by the Russian soldiers in Ukraine, from rape to summary executions. This reflects a broader problem: While Mr. Putin has led his country into a brutal and awful war, Russian public opinion – “Putin’s majority,” fuelled in part by draconian government repression against pro-Western “traitors” – is in support of his actions. That’s despite the fact that independent human-rights organizations have said the conflict presents a “high risk of genocide”; just last week, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a resolution calling for Congress to recognize Russia’s actions in Ukraine as such.
Ukraine is paying an enormous price in fighting the war against this brutal dictatorship, and we are grateful for the confident support from our Western allies. But the West is not merely an ally, because this war is not only about Ukraine: it is about all of us.
Mr. Putin is at war with the West – at war with nearly every citizen on both sides of the Atlantic – and Ukraine is merely the test site for his aggressive imperialism. The debate, then, should now be focused on one question: How will we respond to his most recent attempt to break the existing world order and turn it into a place we definitely would not like to be in?
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