War’s global reach: The wide-ranging repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Dina Ezzat , Khaled Dawoud , Mohamed Abu Shaar , Sayed Abdel-Meguid , Tuesday 1 Mar 2022

The repercussions of the war in Ukraine are being felt the world over, not least in the already troubled Middle East

photo: AP
photo: AP

On Tuesday, as Russian military convoys were heading closer to Kyiv on the fifth day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western capitals were pushing for the UN General Assembly extraordinary special meeting to support a resolution condemning Russia’s actions, and threatening further economic and diplomatic sanctions against Moscow.

The UN General Assembly deliberations which opened Monday followed a failed attempt to secure support for a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution, tabled by the US and Albania, similarly condemning Moscow. It was automatically vetoed by Russia, China, a permanent UNSC member, and India and the UAE, both the non-permanent members, abstained.

In a press briefing, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson accused the US of igniting tensions, while a senior political adviser in the UAE tweeted that diplomacy was the only way ahead.

Following the UNSC meeting, Arab League Council permanent representatives met in the Arab League’s Cairo headquarters at Egypt’s request. The council subsequently issued a statement that called for diplomacy to prevail, and offering to assist in diplomatic mediation.

In the hours leading to the UNGA vote, a source in the UN’s New York headquarters said the US and other leading Western states have been sending “very clear messages” to allies that they expected them to toe the line.

Egypt, for its part, is keen to send a clear message to Ukraine that what Cairo is aiming for is to avoid escalation.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the US in the region, has declined a US request to increase oil production to make up for possible shortfalls in Russian production, and will instead comply with the position of OPEC Plus, of which Russia is member, on production levels.

Washington and the other Western capitals, according to Cairo-based foreign diplomatic sources and Egyptian officials, have also been communicating with Arab capitals bilaterally.

Western eyes will be closely watching the voting allies, including those in the Middle East, in the UN General Assembly, and on the language that comes out of the ordinary Arab Foreign Ministers meeting scheduled this week.

An Egyptian government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that it was a “tightrope moment”, not just for Arab countries “who have been expanding relations with Russia”, but for regional powers, including Israel and Turkey, that have grown closer to Moscow but now need to keep a steady eye on their relations with the US and NATO.

According to the source the situation is complicated: it is not just about striking a balance in relations with Washington and Moscow, it also involves taking into account the economic, political, and military reality the war is creating, and accommodating its eventual outcome, whatever that will be.

Given the unprecedented economic sanctions imposed by the West on Russia, including a partial exclusion from SWIFT, it is far from clear how any state can pursue economic relations — including in the military, energy, and agricultural sectors — with Russia.

A number of Arab countries, Egypt, and Algeria among them, depend on Russia and Ukraine for wheat supplies. How they will manage in the event of the conflict dragging on, with the Russian economy under siege and the rouble in free-fall, is anyone’s guess.

It is impossible to predict how long the war will take, whether it will end in favour of Moscow, or whether the Russian economy can withstand the sanctions it now faces.

The concern in Cairo and other Arab capitals is that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably expected a swift victory following Moscow’s recognition of two self-proclaimed separatist states in the Donbas, which has not come to pass.

In Cairo and New York, informed sources say it looks increasingly likely that Putin now faces the prospect of being bogged down in a long guerilla war in Ukraine, a situation that will force states across the region to make delicate calibrations in their relations with the US and Western allies.

Israel, which declined to send military equipment to Kyiv despite a direct appeal by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, will need to carefully review its position. Ditto Turkey, which has attributed its closure of the maritime passage between the Mediterranean and Black Sea solely to its obligations under international law.

Western diplomatic sources say that it is most likely that the next few weeks will see an increase in transatlantic pressure on Russia, especially if the expected second round of direct Russian-Ukrainian talks fail to make progress.

This week, French President Emmanuel Macron, who tried but failed to halt the descent into war, spoke with Putin to ask for a humanitarian corridor to be established to allow for the passage of aid supplies, and for Russia to avoid targeting civilians. Soon after Macron’s phone call, reports emerged suggesting that Russian forces are using cluster bombs to shell targets in Ukrainian cities.

According to Rabha Seif Allam, an analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), whatever happens, the war will create a new reality for Europe. Already, she noted, Germany has made a giant U-turn, and will now supply military equipment to Ukraine, while the EU has pledged a $450 million military support package to Kyiv.

Future questions, according to ACPSS analyst Ahmed Eleiba, are much tougher: they include the entire post-Cold War security architecture, raising questions about NATO expansion, and demilitarisation, and denuclearisation policies.

Western diplomatic sources agree that future policy scenarios will have to take into account the consequences of what they qualify as Putin’s reconquest strategy which has been manifested in a series of interventions in former Soviet states, including Georgia, Kazakhstan, and now Ukraine. Particularly relevant, they say, is what will become of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which failed to prevent the war, and to the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The same sources say the war has opened a Pandora’s Box that the West itself had tried to keep closed. They add that for now, the top priority is to attend to the humanitarian crisis: the war has already created half a million refugees, a figure that could soon turn into millions.

The international media has featured heart-breaking scenes of thousands of Ukrainians, carrying what few possessions they can, desperately attempting to board trains to take them westwards towards the EU, or caught in tailbacks kilometres long as they attempt to cross land borders.

Reported by Dina Ezzat and Khaled Dawoud in Cairo, Ahmed Mustafa in Dubai, Mohamed Abu Shaar in Gaza, and Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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