Situation Update #5: The Ukraine Crisis

Foreign Policy Brief #149 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | March 10, 2022

Header photo taken from: AP News / Serhii Nuzhnenko

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EU Steps up Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine, Expects Millions More Refugees

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As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second week, the destruction and death toll have continued to worsen. Nearly 2 million people or 4.5% of the population, have fled Ukraine. Most refugees have made their way to neighboring countries such as Hungary, Poland, Moldova, and Slovakia. The EU on March 8, 2021 allocated 500 million Euros for humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and expects millions of more refugees to arrive at its borders. Thus far 516 Ukranian civilians have been killed in the two weeks that war has been raging, with another 1000 civilians wounded. The true toll is likely much higher and will only become clear once the war has ended.

At two weeks into the war, Russia has struggled more than expected as the Ukranian military and civilians have fought keeping them at bay and out of the capital Kyiv. The Ukranian government has requested a NATO no-fly zone be implemented in order to assist in the fight against the invading forces, the request has been rejected multiple times. Implementing a no-fly zone in Ukraine would be dangerous and costly. It would require the US and NATO air power to be in direct conflict with Russian forces. The risks of such a move could drastically escalate the conflict and result in an all out war or even devolve into nuclear strikes. Putin has already signaled his readiness to rely on nuclear weapons with Western interference in the war. Putin has also stated he would not tolerate unlimited U.S. or NATO arms supplied to Ukraine. NATO, in turn, warned Russian against the conflict spilling into a NATO country like Poland or Romania.

Countries opposed to the war have so far relied mainly on sanctions as their primary means of combating the Russian invasion. The US and its allies have already removed Russian use of the SWIFT financial system, sanctioned Putin and officials close to him, as well as frozen Russia’ s assets in the West. Additionally, the US has now banned Russian oil in what are the most restrictive sanctions ever imposed on a major power. The EU has also committed to scaling back use of Russian energy imports by the end of the year, down of their average consumption, which would be a tremendous blow to Russia’ s already battered economy. 

Even Switzerland has dropped its long held neutral stance and has sanctioned Russian assets. These sanctions, along with a number of businesses that have cut ties with Russia, have made it impossible to conduct business as usual in the country. The Russian ruble has fallen to record lows amid the sanctions.  Now it is  worth less than one penny.

Oil prices in the US, which were already on the rise, have been pushed up even further with the announcement of Russian oil sanctions. Energy prices are contributing to the worst inflation in 40 years, consumer prices jumped 7.5% compared to last year. The US has held talks with Venezuela  to find an alternative source of oil to fill the void left by Russian sanctions. The US had previously cut ties with Venezuela and does not recognize Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate president of the South American nation. This move could be seen as one to isolate Russia even further by replacing its oil with Venezuelan oil in the US and European states, and scratch off one of the few allies Russia has left.

Free speech has become another casualty of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In order to combat public isolation, Russia has banned journalists from calling its actions in Ukraine a ‘war’ or an ‘invasion’. On March 4, 2022 President Putin signed a law making the spread of what the government would classify as false information about the armed forces illegal. Journalists caught doing so could be jailed for up to 15 years. The move prompted several international media outlets to pull out of Russia in order to avoid having their journalists prosecuted and jailed.

There has also been a host of criticism of the West’s double standards in its handling of refugees and in reporting on the war. The EU’s quick humanitarian response to the refugees fleeing Ukraine has drawn calls of unequal responses. Contrast  those of a European background fleeing war and being welcomed with open arms to Middle Eastern and North African refugees, many of which have spent years, if not decades, attempting to seek asylum in Europe. 

Certain media coverage of the ongoing crisis has also come under scrutiny for the use of offensive and racist language. 

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The price of regular gasoline broke $4 per gallon on average across the U.S. on Sunday for the first time since 2008.

Arab refugees see double standards in Europe's embrace of Ukrainians – Internally displaced Syrians walk together near tents at a camp in Azaz, Syria

Photo taken from: Reuters / Mahmoud Hassano

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Comments made by Western journalists have been widely circulated in media, for example, CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata stated last week that “ Ukraine isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan… This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen”.

There have also been reports of minorities in Ukraine experiencing racist treatment by Ukrainian  security and border officials. African and Asian students in Ukraine had reportedly been denied access to escape routes alongside Ukrainians fleeing the Russian onslaught. “Only Ukrainians. That’s all. If you are Black, you should walk”, were the words reportedly told to one African student attempting to get on a bus to across the border into Poland.

On Wednesday March 9, 2021 Russian airstrikes hit three hospitals including a maternity hospital. The strikes were carried out to destroy so- called chemical weapons labs. On the same day, the power supply to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was cut. Ukrainian authorities have said the invading Russian forces were to blame for the blackout at the site and warned it could lead to nuclear discharge.

While the war has created a massive problem for the citizens of Ukraine and neighboring European states, but it has also taken a massive toll on Russia and will probably frustrate Russian officials who may not have foreseen the extent of the consequences of their actions. A lagging and demoralized army, along with a squeezed and battered economy, may anger Putin into escalating the war in dangerous ways.

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