Russia’s war against Ukraine did not end quickly, as some analysts had initially predicted. One hundred days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to dub the war “a special military operation,” while the United States and its European allies describe it as a premeditated invasion that violates international law.
The Russian troops did not march successfully on Kyiv to topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an American-style “shock and awe” operation. Despite the Russian army’s massive power, Ukraine’s military is far more advanced than that of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the skies were open for the US air force to carry out its common “carpet bombing” with giant bombs loaded with thousands of tonnes of explosives to prepare for an easy ground invasion and the quick fall of the enemy’s government. Decaying, Soviet-era Iraqi air defences were hardly enough to light up the skies, while late war-monger US defense minister Donald Rumsfeld, fumed that the US air force had quickly run out of targets in Afghanistan, and wondered whether it was worth it to waste a missile worth millions to hit a mortar on top of an Afghani pick-up vehicle. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan, of course, received billions of dollars’ worth of advanced weapons to confront the US invasion, as the case is now with Ukraine.
What is even more insane is that Russia, Europe and the United States are now discussing publicly how to avoid a nuclear war, and whether this option would be a possibility in the first place if the US and Europe gave Ukraine weapons advanced enough to hit targets in Russia. So far, the US and Europe have decided not to take too seriously Putin’s references to his country’s nuclear arsenal, and how all options were on the table if the US-led Western alliance insisted on isolating Russia and encircling its borders. Yet it remains a shock to see renewed Cold War threats and the chance that any small mistake might escalate into something truly disastrous given that the whole world order is based on the assumption that no new major world wars should take place on European soil after World War II, and even more after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
More than 100 days later, it also remains unclear how this war might end. The Kyiv takeover scenario has been largely excluded, and the fighting is now concentrated in eastern Ukraine close to the Russian border. Some European countries, as well as lower voices in the US, seem willing to accept the outcome of Russia annexing Russian-speaking areas in eastern Ukraine and assurances that it will never join the NATO alliance in return for stopping the war. Others, especially formerly communist Eastern European countries who have not forgotten the era of the former Soviet dominance, insist that Russia must be defeated and brought to its knees. The decisions by Finland and Sweden to abandon more than 70 years of neutrality and apply for membership in NATO will definitely lead to more intransigence in Moscow.
As this argument goes on, the people of Ukraine have suffered most, not only in terms of human losses and massive destruction, but also by being forced to leave their homes, producing more than five million refugees to nearby countries with eight million displaced in 100 days. More than 4,000 civilians have been killed since the war started on 24 February, according to UN estimates. Ukrainian officials place the death toll much higher.
Meanwhile, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has inflicted heavy economic losses on the entire world economy, doubling the prices of many basic food commodities as well as oil fuel, and driving inflation rates up to unprecedented levels. The effects the Russia-Ukraine war had on poor and middle-income nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America has been devastating. All these countries heavily depend on imports, from food to advanced machinery, many are in heavy external debts or suffering wars and civilian strife. Being unable to provide the most needed imports to feed their people because of an unnecessary war in Europe is the last thing those nations expected.
The war is costing those involved tens of millions of dollars. And so, if the United States and Europe, along with Russia, insist on going on with it, part of their military budgets should be dedicated to assisting poor and middle-income nations in coping with the international consequences of the military conflict. Wonderful, generous pledges were made, yet very little has been delivered.
A few days ago, the President of Senegal and African Union Chairman Macky Sall, appealed directly to Russian President Putin to release Ukraine’s grain as countries across Africa and the Middle East face alarming levels of hunger and starvation. At a news conference with Putin, Sall also blamed Western sanctions on Russia for compounding Africa’s food crisis. “Our countries, although they are far from the theatre, are victims of this crisis on an economic level,” Sall said.
With no end in sight for this war, the hope is not to have to discuss what the world will look like 200 days later, though many experts believe this is the most likely scenario.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.