Monday, February 28, 2022

War in Ukraine and the threat of WWIII

In the last week the world has been witness to scenes reminiscent of the beginnings of World War II as Russia invaded Ukraine.

Up to half a million people have fled the country as bombs rained down on cities across the country. Roads have been blocked with cars, many running out of fuel well before reaching the borders of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary before being abandoned, their occupants forced to abandon them and walk the rest of the way. Others have attempted to flee by train. Pictures showed packed platforms and trains heading for the border with people desperate  to escape.

After weeks of a military buildup on the Belarusian and Russian border with Ukraine the invasion began on Thursday 24th February 2022. The threat had been clear for some time with the White House saying the invasion was imminent for more than a week before the day came.

Many likened the move to Hitler's invasion of Poland or Czechoslovakia in 1939. But while there were certainly disconcerting similarities as Putin rolled out his plan to rebuild the former soviet empire.

Ukraine has had to fight the Russians alone, albeit with military aid from European and US allies. Not being a part of NATO, nor a member of the EU, other countries have been reluctant to give direct support in order to exacerbate the situation and avoid precipitating a wider conflict.

Putin's veiled threats of using nuclear weapons have also caused NATO members to pause and not go further.

The main weapon being employed is sanctions which have had some effect in degrading   the Russian financial system. BP and Shell have pulled out of projects [Guardian]

Governments too have imposed restrictions. The EU banned all Russian flights over its airspace and banned many financial institutions from using Swift, an international banking system as well as targeting named Russian oligarchs [Guardian / FT].  The US and UK have also imposed similar sanctions [Al Jazeera]. And less than a week after the invasion the usually neutral Switzerland also imposed sanctions on Russia [Guardian].

The effect has crippled Russia's financial system to the point that the Rouble collapsed on Monday [28th February] dropping 30% and forcing Russia to increase interest rates from 9% to 20% and prompting the stock market to be closed to trading [Reuters].

It is unclear whether the sanctions will force Russia to pull out. Indeed much is down to Putin who has been described as 'unhinged' by many including James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence of the United States. Macron is said to have described Putin as much 'stiffer and more isolated' than what he'd seen in previous encounters [CNN].

This is all the more unnerving. Should the war escalate and draw in NATO, there is a risk that Putin could unleash his stockpile of nuclear weapons [FT].

Even aside these risks there is a concern that a widening conflict could create further complications with the likes of China, India and the UAE all of which abstained in a recent security council vote at the UN and which have strong financial, trade and military ties with Russia.

While hundreds have certainly died on both sides, it seems clear that Putin's invasion isn't going as swiftly as he might have expected. But a military failure or slowing down of military success could result in Putin lashing out with more destructive weapons.

It is still early days which even the British government appeared to acknowledge today as the foreign secretary Liz Truss told the UK Parliament the war could last months or years. This certainly has all the makings of a third world war.

tvnewswatch, London, UK