Part 2: Unmasking the Ukraine-Russia Conflict: A Tale of Resilience and International Dilemmas (GP Topic: Politics)

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Welcome to the ever-unfolding narrative of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, a compelling and complex saga that has gripped the world’s attention! This geopolitical struggle has unfolded with countless twists and turns, showcasing the profound impact of power dynamics and international tensions. So, prepare yourself for a journey that delves into the heart of this conflict, exploring its origins, consequences, and the challenges faced by the international community.

Historical grievances affecting current day affairs

Putin’s order to invade Ukraine on February 24 was undoubtedly the catalyst for the conflict. Putin thought that it would be a short and decisive war resulting in a quick victory. His plan involved Russian airborne troops seizing the airport and advancing tanks capturing the capital of Ukraine, thereby replacing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a puppet government.

Putin justified the invasion to the Russian people as a “special military operation” aimed at “denazifying” Ukraine and preventing NATO’s expansion, his miscalculations raised doubts about his true motivations. Really, one of the main reasons behind the conflict was his refusal to recognize Ukraine as a legitimate nation-state. Being an ex-KGB officer during the Soviet Union’s existence, Putin deeply lamented its dissolution and viewed Ukraine, with its close cultural ties to Russia, as an artificial entity. Furthermore, he felt that Ukraine had been ungrateful by orchestrating the 2014 Maidan uprising that ousted a pro-Russian government and by deepening its trade relations with the European Union, which offended Russia.

In pursuit of restoring what he calls the “Russian world” and contemplating his legacy, especially as he approaches a ripe old age, Putin seems to have drawn inspiration from past leaders who expanded Russian power during their time. Given the relatively limited impact of Western sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin may have reasoned that a further escalation was a viable course of action.

So here we are, a year after the outbreak of the Ukraine war and 4,638 deaths later. Unlike Putin’s assumptions, the Ukrainians refused to surrender and retaliated hard. For example, during the battle in Kyiv, Ukrainian forces assumed defensive positions on bridges at the openings of the city, quickly setting up anti-tank infrastructure. Citizens even made Molotov cocktails as they awaited the impending assault. Despite the brutal siege warfare that took place in the city, Ukrainian forces were ready, disrupting supplies to the Russians by preventing any carriers from landing. They also actively destroyed Russian vehicles to push the frontlines back further. 

The international community also stepped up to help turn the tide. As of February 2023, military aid was donated by EU institutions and 45 sovereign countries. Donations ranged from financial aid, ammunition and arms, to full-blown tanks, underwater and aerial vehicles. This aid, compounded with the Ukrainians’ admirable courage and tactics, made Moscow realise that they made a grave mistake. A long drawn battle this has been and would be. 

The great cost of war

The impacts of the war are extremely far reaching and felt by many countries worldwide. Economic sanctions can have far-reaching economic impacts not only on the target country but also on the nations implementing them. The international community is acutely aware of the potential economic fallout resulting from the sanctions imposed on Russia. For one, the war has caused a sharp increase in energy and food prices, which has led to inflation and economic hardship in many countries. Headline inflation increased from 0.3% in 2020 to 2.6% in 2021 and then to 8.4% in 2022. Energy and food inflation accounted for more than two-thirds of this record-high inflation in 2022. The International Monetary Fund has warned that the war could have a “severe impact” on the global economy, and it has downgraded its growth forecast for 2022.

Politically, tensions beyond Ukraine and Russia are also exacerbated. The war has led to a rethinking of relations between Russia and the West, and it has increased tensions between China and the United States. The United States’ efforts to counter Russia’s aggression, along with China’s aggressive stance under Xi Jinping, have contributed to bringing Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia closer to the United States. There is a significant impact on the global order, and has raised questions about the future of international law and institutions. There is no alternative for the Baltic nations and East Europeans but to seek assistance from NATO and the United States, and it is unlikely that another option will emerge. 

Socially, there has been an outbreak of a huge humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes, and thousands have been killed. The United Nations has called the war the “fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II.” In 2023, 17.6 million people in Ukraine require humanitarian assistance, 45% of whom are women, 23% are children and 15% are people with disabilities. Approximately 40% of Ukraine’s population is now in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Ukraine calls for $3.9 billion to reach 11.1 million people with food, health care, cash and other life-saving assistance.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the international community has imposed a wide range of sanctions, aiming to exert pressure and deter further aggression.  Financial sanctions have been implemented, targeting Russia’s central bank, major banks, and sovereign wealth fund. They have restricted Russia’s access to foreign currency reserves and made it challenging for Russian companies to raise capital. Export controls have been imposed, prohibiting the export of a broad range of goods and technologies to Russia, including semiconductors, aircraft, and oil and gas equipment. Travel bans have been enforced, preventing Russian officials and oligarchs from travelling to the United States and other Western nations. Individual sanctions have targeted specific Russian individuals and organisations, including President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. Moreover, the international community has strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and called for an immediate ceasefire. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution denouncing the invasion, while the General Assembly approved a resolution demanding Russia’s withdrawal of troops.

Inadequacies and considerations of international committees 

However, despite these measures, the war in Ukraine persists. Russia remains unyielding, and the international community struggles to find a consensus on how to bring an end to the conflict. The international community is faced with a multitude of challenges in its endeavours to put an end to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. These challenges pose significant hurdles and impede the collective efforts to bring about a resolution. One major obstacle lies in the divisions within the international community itself. There is a lack of unanimity among countries on how to respond to Russia’s invasion, with some nations, such as China and India, choosing not to condemn Russia’s actions, abstaining from the vote in the General Assembly. This lack of consensus makes it arduous for the international community to formulate and execute a coordinated response. Another formidable challenge stems from Russia’s possession of a substantial nuclear arsenal and its explicit threats of using it when it feels threatened. This factor has created a sense of trepidation within the international community, discouraging any action that might inadvertently escalate the conflict and endanger global stability. 

Moreover, Russia has found ways to recover from economic sanctions. In response, President Putin recently declared that countries labelled as ‘unfriendly’ would be required to make payments in Russian rubles for Russian gas, and potentially for oil in the future. Therefore, this action may lead to an increase in the demand for rubles in the global foreign exchange markets. Specifically, it could compel the Western nations to permit gas and oil purchasers to acquire rubles despite the existing sanctions, potentially enabling Russia and its central bank to sell those rubles, enhancing the international role of the ruble. Russia has also implemented retaliatory measures, such as obligating Russian exporters to sell 80% of foreign currency received from foreign trade contracts and to sell 80% of foreign currency credited. There have also been restrictions on holding and lending of foreign currency by Russians, where the tightening of regulations on cross-border financial activities aim to restrict the movement of foreign currency by Russian residents.

For A Level GP Paper 1, in politics essays, students can use examples of international support, such as military aid and humanitarian assistance, to evaluate the response of the international community to the conflict. By comparing these various factors and stakeholders, students can better decide which is most salient or effective. Students can discuss the economic, political, and social consequences of the war, including the impact of sanctions on Russia and the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine to provide a more holistic view on the impact of war. Furthermore, students can explore the challenges faced by the international community in finding a resolution, accentuating their limitations, such as divisions among countries and the threat of nuclear warfare. 

Overall, the war in Ukraine is far from a simple tale. With a stubborn Russian Bear, the threat of nuclear warfare, and a global economic fallout, it’s like a plotline straight out of an action-packed spy thriller. But fear not, for the international community is determined to put an end to Russia’s aggression. We stand united, ready to take further action if necessary, because when it comes to peace, we’re not backing down. So let’s march forward, shoulder to shoulder, and show the world that even in the face of adversity, we can still make this world a better place.

Relevant A level GP Questions:

  • Assess the view that international organisations are mostly ineffective.
  • Consider the notion that reaching a consensus is an ideal way to govern.
  • The possibility of a world war in the near future can be entertained. Do you agree?

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