NEW DELHI: February 24 marks the one year anniversary of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has already claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and countless troops. Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Kyiv has further destabilised the world, which was already reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Economies of most nations are in a precarious position and geopolitical relations have undergone a whirlwind of change. There are fewer supplies of grain, fertiliser and energy. There is also higher inflation and more economic uncertainty.
Here are some ways the war has changed the world:
Economies struggling to grow
The war’s economic impact has been felt from chilly homes in Europe to food markets in Africa.
Before the war, European Union nations imported almost half their natural gas and third of their oil from Russia.
The invasion, and sanctions slapped on Russia in response, delivered an energy price shock on a scale not seen since the 1970s.
Natural gas prices are still three times higher than they were before Russia began its invasion.
The IMF has repeatedly revised its GDP predictions downwards for most countries as production has ground to a snail’s pace with supply lines constantly under threat.
Food prices have shot up
Food prices have soared, since Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of wheat, barley and sunflower oil. Russia is also the world’s top fertiliser producer.
The two countries are major suppliers for Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia where many struggle with hunger.
Grain-carrying ships have continued to sail from Ukraine under a fragile UN-brokered deal, and prices have come down from record levels.
But food remains a geopolitical football. Russia has sought to blame the West for high prices, while Ukraine and its allies accuse Russia of cynically using hunger as a weapon.
The IMF says prices increased 7.3% in the wealthiest countries last year — above its January 2022 prediction of 3.9%. Prices increased by 9.9% in poorer countries, up from 5.9% expected pre-invasion.
Russia’s military superpower image has taken a hit
When Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine, most military analysts had expected that the Russian army would make quick work of Kyiv’s forces.
However, what followed has irrevocably tarnished Russia’s image as a military superpower.
Soviet-era tanks, malnourished and ill-equipped soldiers, non-functional guns — a host of reports started pouring in from the front about Moscow’s mismanaged forces.
The first few months saw the Russians make major headway into Ukraine’s territory but they soon lost steam as Kyiv successfully hit its supply lines.
Photographs showing columns of burnt Russian tanks made the frontpage of newspapers around the world.
As weapons from US and Nato allies made their way to the front, Kyiv’s forces did the unthinkable – they forced the Russians to retreat.
By January 2023, Ukrainian forces took back over 25% of all territory that was captured by Moscow since the invasion began.
China has become increasingly insecure
Most analysts drew parallels between what Russia was doing in Ukraine to what China might be thinking of doing in Taiwan.
But Russia’s spectacular failures and mismanagement has taught some harsh lessons to China.
Foreign minister Qin Gang has repeatedly called on the US and its allies to stop equating Russia’s military aggression in the European nation with Beijing’s claims over Taiwan, “Stop provoking the situation by using references like Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow”.
China views Taiwan, a self-ruled island, as a rebel province that should be reunified with the mainland, even by force. But Beijing has become increasingly sensitive about the comparisons between Russian territorial claims over Ukraine as well as its stance on Taipei, especially after Putin failed to secure a quick victory.
Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping, who secured an unprecedented third term, was rattled by mass protests that broke out across China against his ‘Covid Zero’ policy.
For the first time since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, people openly spoke out against the establishment.
An insecure Jinping quickly cracked down on dissenters but he is now under immense pressure to deliver on his promises, one of them being reunification of Taiwan with mainland China.
A new arms race has started
The US and Nato allies were slow at first to deliver weapons to Kyiv, preferring to take the sanctions route. However, as the war dragged on and President Volodymyr Zelenskky made impassioned speeches asking the West for weapons to “fight back the enemy”, the allies swung into action.
Drones, howitzers, missiles, armoured vehicles and now tanks are being sent to Ukrainian forces. There are also talks of delivering long-range missiles and even fighter jets.
The Biden administration has already sent weaponry worth over $35 billion to Ukraine.
Weapons production in France, Germany and many other European nations has also ramped up as nations look to secure their own borders.
Russia has so far been fighting with its own stockpiles, much from the Soviet-era.
Experts, however, said that Moscow is likely courting several nations to import new weaponry in exchange for tech knowledge. The US has already accused China of making plans to give weapons to Moscow, a charge that Beijing has so far vehemently denied.
Nuclear threat has increased
As Ukrainian forces continued to repel and push back Russian forces, Putin’s speeches became more hawkish.
In a televised speech in September, Putin’s vitriol reached a peak as he promised to defend Russia’s territory, including the annexed Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, “by all means necessary”. “This is not a bluff,” he warned.
On February 21 this year, Putin pushed the world even closer to doomsday as he announced that Russia would no longer participate in the new START treaty, a nuclear arms pact it had with the US.
The treaty, signed in 2010, caps the number of long-range nuclear warheads the two sides can deploy and limits the use of missiles that can carry atomic weapons.
Putin also said that Russia should stand ready to resume nuclear weapons tests if the US does so, a move that would end a global ban on such tests in place since the Cold War era.
Alliances have strengthened
Part of Vladimir Putin’s strategy was that the issue of intervention in Ukraine would split the West and weaken the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato).
However, Nato has been reinvigorated and may even expand with Finland and Sweden, which ditched decades of nonalignment, requesting membership as protection against Russia.
The 27-member European Union has also shown solidarity, hitting Russia with tough sanctions and sending billions of dollars worth of weapons to Ukraine.
The EU also took the extremely tough decision to drastically cut gas and oil imports from Russia, forcing many Europeans to cut down on their power consumption and go without heat in the winter months.
With the US taking a lead role in arming Ukraine, the war is increasingly becoming a standoff between Washington and Moscow.
World once again divided
During the Cold War, most countries either sided with America and the democratic values of the West or the Soviet Union’s communist principles.
The stark division is coming back once again.
Most European nations and Western countries have blasted Moscow for its aggressive actions, but Russia is not entirely friendless.
China has been careful to not criticise Russia’s actions and Putin has on several occasions said that Russia-China ties will help “restore the world order”.
Putin has also reinforced military links with international outcasts North Korea and Iran, which has supplied armed drones to Moscow’s forces.
Moscow also continues to build influence in Africa and the Middle East with its economic and military clout.