(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own)
The people of Ukraine are the principal victims of the unjustified and unprovoked war, launched against them by Russia on February 24, 2022. But in the year since then, it has become clear that other victims – on a different scale – have been all the nations of the world, particularly the small, poor and powerless.
When the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, the global economy was still struggling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that had battered economies around the world, especially those of developing countries. The supply of food and other goods had been severely affected by border closures, ships trapped in ports, airplanes grounded, and the resultant high costs of scarce goods. One year later the global economy is in much worse shape as a consequence of Russia’s war. Inflation rates are soaring and the cost of living everywhere has increased dramatically. These rising costs of finance, energy and food, and a debt burden that has expanded, have pushed some countries to the edge of bankruptcy.
In a real sense, therefore, the Russian war is a war against the world, and while the people of Ukraine are the main sufferers, the peoples of other countries have not been spared. This war is no longer a “European war”, nor is it only a contest for supremacy between Russia and the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it is a war that engulfs every nation with grave consequences.
When Russia embarked on its war against Ukraine, it violated sacred principles that are enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Those principles, which are highly valued by small and powerless states, are sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.
As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which has responsibility for collective security, the Russian government was well aware of these principles. Yet, with no justification for its aggression and no provocation, it launched its war on Ukraine. Today, it stands responsible for the humanitarian crisis that its actions have caused in Ukraine, including rape and murder of civilians, and destruction of civilian objects and the natural environment.
The world community depends upon a rules-based system for collective international security, and to ensure that order prevails in a predictable way to avoid wars and economic chaos. It is in the interest of every country in the international community, including those that are powerful in military and economic terms, to adhere always to a system of rules. For, while short-term national objectives might be achieved by breaking the rules, eventually such actions are not sustainable.
By its aggression in Ukraine, Russia has significantly weakened the rules-based system upon which the world depends, particularly the small, the poor who are the least resilient.
The war is having an enormous impact on the global supply chain, impeding the flow of goods, fueling huge increases in the cost of food, and creating catastrophic food shortages. There are now protests and riots in many parts of the world over the rising cost of living and the immense difficulty people face in trying to make ends meet. These protests and riots are directed at their own governments, even though none of these conditions were a result of any policy decision taken or implemented by them.
Many governments, around the world, are now hapless victims of Russia’s decision to wage a war against Ukraine. Further, having already accumulated a heavy debt burden, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in interest rates in global commercial market, have rendered debt unpayable, except by diverting money from domestic social welfare and capital projects. These governments now find themselves having to pay high interests on new loans. Many are spending as much as 45 per cent of their export earnings to service existing debt obligations. Some will fail, and the world might be confronted with yet another debt crisis.
Let it be said, however, that the greatest victims in terms of loss of lives and livelihoods, and the decimation of their country are the Ukrainians. They are fighting for their identity, their territory and their survival. They deserve the admiration and support of the world for their courage, their strength and their resistance.
Right now, the world needs peace to overcome the immediate harmful effects of this war; lasting peace is what the world will need to recover from the impact of the war on their economies and their people. More than anything else, the world needs renewed commitment by every nation to end the scourge of war, and to renew inclusionary engagement on supporting peace, including economic stability and predictability, and an end to dealing with territorial claims peacefully and within international law.
Russia needs that peace as much as Ukraine and the rest of the world. A great deal of Russian treasure is being spent on this war, which, after a year, has not given Russia the swift victory its government expected. The lives of Russian soldiers are being lost, and Russians are fleeing their country, depriving it of needed skills and talent. Russia, like Ukraine, will also suffer a prolonged period of agony, whenever the war ends, before it can recover from this unprovoked war.
Ending the war swiftly and returning to the principles of the UN Charter, are in every country’s interest.
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