The Russian war in Ukraine is approaching its third month with no signs of a solution looming, or at least not until the end of the year.
Furthermore, even if the war ends, its repercussions will not overnight. And if the war does not end soon, the crucial question will be what will happen internationally?
Some analysts believe that a long-term war lasting from months to years may be an acceptable or even favourable outcome for Moscow. The result would certainly be horrific for Ukraine, which would be devastated as a country.
Also, the outcome would be horrific for the west, which will face years of instability in Europe and the constant threat of conflict spilling over into new territories.
A protracted war will have tangible effects at the global level and will likely cause waves of famine and economic uncertainty. An endless war in Ukraine risks eroding Kyiv’s support in western societies that are in no position to withstand intense military conflicts, even if they take place elsewhere.
Post-western commercially oriented societies accustomed to the comforts of a globalised peacetime world may lose interest in war, unlike the population of Russia, which has been incited by President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda and mobilised into a wartime society.
They believe that Putin has several reasons not to end the war he started, as he is not yet close to achieving his basic goals. So far, his armies have not performed well enough for Russia to force Ukraine to surrender, and Russia is far from overthrowing the Ukrainian government.
From his perspective, any future peace agreement that does not enable him to extract significant concessions from Ukraine will be disproportionate to Russia’s loss of life and equipment and its international isolation. Having mobilised the Russians to war using symbolic struggles such as the Soviet Union’s ‘Great Patriotic War’ against Nazi Germany in the context of this mobilisation, Putin may not be satisfied with a dishonourable peace.
On the other hand, Ukraine also has several reasons not to end the war with a premature ceasefire and on Russian terms. Its armed forces have performed admirably. Facing an unprovoked attack from one of the world’s major military powers, Ukrainian forces pushed back Russia in the north and northeast of the country. Moreover, Russia lost the battle of Kyiv and was unable to push its forces beyond the city of Mykolaiv.
Ukraine has shown that perseverance and high morale — backed by drones and modern anti-tank weapons — can fortify the defensive capabilities of the army. Russia has a good chance of losing the war, so there is a good chance for Ukraine to settle the war on better terms than the unacceptably large concessions that Moscow currently wants from Kyiv.
However, A prolonged war in Ukraine would have dire consequences for the continent. As long as the war rages, Europe will not be complete, free, and at peace, but will include within it a war zone fraught with the danger of escalation.
Russia’s armies are not in a position to enter Poland or the Baltic republics, but the zigzag line of danger will stretch from north to south — less firmly entrenched than the Cold War’s iron curtain — requiring NATO to adopt new methods of defence. The exodus of Ukrainian refugees will continue, and over time the migrants may decide to settle in Europe once and for all.
There will also be repercussions on a global scale. And if this war becomes entrenched, it will surely lead to an exacerbation of global hunger, given that Ukraine and Russia are major producers of foodstuffs such as wheat.
Global hunger acts as a lever for global destabilisation. People in Africa and the Middle East — who seem distant from Ukraine — may find themselves in a political crisis caused by the spill-over effects of the war in Ukraine. And this abhorrent reality will disrupt dreams of an elegant exit from the coronavirus pandemic.
The contradictions in the international response to the conflict are already emerging. Several countries see a kind of double standard in the West’s enthusiasm for receiving Ukrainian refugees and punishing Russia for a war it launched of its choosing, while the US has fought many such wars in recent years.
And given that 37 countries only imposed sanctions on Russia, compared to 141 countries that have condemned the invasion in the UN, there is an obvious lack of complete agreement among the members of the international community on the war in Ukraine.
This ununified response is what allows the war to continue and impose more negative repercussions on the security and stability of the global system.
Dr Hatem Sadek is a Professor at Helwan University