The Russian invasion of Ukraine…an attempt to end the independence of a sovereign country by force…would, if successful, set a precedent that should frighten smaller nations across the globe.
It is an attack on the system on international law that has given us 80 years of relative peace in Europe, and, as a side benefit, allowed international trade to develop, thereby raising living standards everywhere.
The UN Charter of 1946 established the principles of the inviolability of borders, of respect for the territorial integrity of states and the prohibition of the use of force.
When Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1991, its borders were formally guaranteed by Russia, the US and the UK. Now one of those guarantors is deliberately breaching those borders (for a second time)
The Helsinki Conference (1975) reaffirmed the respect of borders in Europe, and gave birth to the OSCE, of which Russia is a member. Its Charter confirms the above-mentioned UN principles.
The Helsinki Final Act goes on to say
“They (states) also have the right to belong or not to belong to international organizations, to be party or not to bilateral or multilateral treaties, including the right to be party or not to treaties of alliance”
The Russian pre text for war, to stop Ukraine joining NATO and the EU, is a direct contradiction of this Helsinki principle.
Many, including President Putin, hoped the war would be a short one. Increasingly it is looking like becoming a long war of attrition, much like World War One, where most of the deaths are caused by missiles and shells falling for the sky. This sort of war can grind on for months and even years, until all is ruined.
The devastation will be felt far from Ukraine.
Ukraine and Russia between them grow 25% of the wheat traded in the world. 12% of all the calories consumed in the entire world derive from crops grown in Russia and Ukraine.
It is impossible to sow and harvest crops on a battlefield. Indeed both belligerent nations are likely to keep any crops they can grow, for the use of their own beleaguered people.
The effect of this on bread prices will be dramatic. 75% of all the wheat consumed in Turkey, and 72% of that consumed in Egypt, comes from Russia or Ukraine. Israel and Tunisia are also dependent for half their supplies from the same sources. We can expect bread riots and renewed political instability in these countries.
The effect of the war will be to increase social tensions everywhere. The higher fuel and food prices that are flowing directly from the war will affect poorer families much more than better off ones because these items are a bigger share of the weekly budget in poorer families. They will also hit rural households much harder, because they have to rely on a private car to obtain the necessities of life.
The cost of replacement motor cars will rise because of shortages of minerals like aluminium, titanium, palladium and nickel, of which Russia is a major supplier. This will hit Germany’s car industry hard. Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Finland will be disproportionately hit by the loss of Russian markets for their exports.
China’s Belt and Road initiative, creating a land based route for Chinese exports to Western Europe, is being radically disrupted by a war which cuts right across China’s road westwards, and whose effects are being felt all the way from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
Continuance of this war is not in China’s interests.
The longer the war goes on, the more the sanctions on Russia will begin to sap its war making capacity. Supplies of missiles and shells will become progressively harder to pay for. Those supplying weaponry to Ukraine have deeper pockets. This is the significance of Russia’s overtures to China.
These overtures are an opportunity. China has an incentive to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. So has Turkey. Timing will be crucial.
But the ingredients of such a deal, where there is no trust at all between the parties, are much harder to describe.
Ukraine could perhaps find a formula to give up Crimea, but it can hardly concede an inch in Eastern Ukraine. Russian language rights in Ukraine could be guaranteed, but what has Russia to offer in return? Perhaps reparations for the physical damage they have done to Ukraine’s infrastructure. Ukraine could join the EU, but not NATO, with Russia’s encouragement (which would be a big U turn for Russia).
None of these compromises are palatable , but they are preferable to a war of attrition which could go on for years, until all the participants are exhausted, or dead.