No end in sight

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Tuesday 21 Feb 2023

When Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine, few military experts expected it would take longer than annexing Crimea in 2014: it had taken one month and six days.


 A whole year later, despite devastating consequences for the economies and food security of the entire world and developing countries especially, there is no reason to think the war won’t last another year or longer.

The United States and its European allies have turned it into Operation Save Democracy, aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged ambitions to restore the glory of the former Soviet Union, with Ukraine being only a first step. To mark the anniversary of the war, US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday, promising unwavering American support for Ukraine for “as long as it takes.”

The United States alone provided more than $30 billion in military assistance to Ukraine over the past year, while the European Union and the United Kingdom combined offered nearly $7 billion. Meanwhile, US arms sales to Europe have spiked, confirming NATO’s leading security role in Europe and disproving any talk of independent European security arrangements.

Words like “ceasefire” or “peace talks” amount to treason in the pro-Ukraine Western camp, which insists that the war can end only when Russia pulls out its troops from all the Ukrainian territories it has occupied over the past year. For Ukrainian officials, the only acceptable outcome is the downfall of Putin himself, since the claim is that as long as he is in power they will never feel safe.

Russian grievances over threats to its own security, with NATO edging too close to its border in violation of the understandings reached with the United States after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, were simply ridiculed and ignored. Historic integration between Russia and Ukraine, which was once a Soviet republic, were sidelined, making it sound as if Moscow has ordered its troops to travel thousands of miles away to invade and occupy another country. Hearing such charges coming from the United States, which unilaterally invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003 was indeed ironic.

Worse, the short-lived dream of an international order based on cooperation among world countries that followed the end of the Cold War turned out to be an illusion, and is now replaced with a dangerous discussion of the possible use of nuclear weapons in case Russia faced a humiliating defeat.  

Meanwhile, countries such as Germany, Sweden and Finland which have historically been neutral have reversed of their defence policies which ruled out providing offensive weapons to warring nations, providing generous military aid to Ukraine. Russia saw Finland and Sweden’s application to join NATO as yet another indication that the US-led alliance was in for a long war aimed at toppling the regime in Moscow.

Since the war started, Ukraine has been pressing the United States and European allies to provide more offensive weapons, even if that meant sending more alarming signals to Moscow, and pushing the end of the war further out of sight.

At the beginning of the war, both Washington and the EU stressed they would not provide Kyiv with weapons allowing them to attack Russian territory, and ruled out advanced tanks. However, with the war reaching a near standstill over the past few months, the Western alliance has reversed its policy, and both the United States and Germany agreed to provide Ukraine with advanced tanks.

It turns out that this was only an appetizer, and Ukrainian military officials are now pressing Washington to provide them with fighter jets. If this happens, and it might, that would be the signal for the beginning of direct confrontation between the two historic foes and nuclear powers, the United States and Russia.

But in this part of the world, that war taking place thousands of miles away has only made matters much worse for fragile developing economies hardly recovering from the effects of a two-year closure during the Covid-19 epidemic. A country like Egypt, which imports more than 70 per cent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, saw its imports bill almost double. Uncertainty over the world’s future led to a sudden outflow of foreign reserves and an acute shortage in foreign currency, forcing the government to resort once again to the International Monetary Fund for a new loan of $3 billion. The same scenario was seen in many other Arab and African nations which have no part or interest in this war.

Egypt and other developing countries in Africa and the Middle East have repeatedly appealed to the United States and Russia to let wisdom prevail and end this war in a way that safeguards the interests of both Russia and Ukraine. But the war between Russia and Ukraine cannot simply be framed in the context of nations respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity now that the threat of nuclear war is imminent.

Our hope is that will not have to write again next year appealing for an end to a war  that can have no definitive victor, a fact that some European politicians are now shyly admitting. Popular protests in the United Kingdom, France and Germany over deteriorating economic conditions are only one indication of Europeans themselves fed up with the war and the way it is making their lives more difficult. 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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