Putin’s war in Ukraine: The role of the West and Saudi Arabia in the U.S. response to the attack on Sevastopol
A world affairs columnist, Frida Ghitis is a former CNN producer and correspondent. She is a weekly opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
Almost immediately after the blast last month that destroyed a section of the ferry connecting Russia and the Ukrainian territory of Sevastopol, the Kremlin intensified attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
Much of the weaponry for these attacks that are wreaking havoc on the lives of Ukrainians is coming from Iran, which has already supplied Russia with hundreds of deadly drones.
The strengthening relationship between Moscow and Tehran has drawn the attention of Iran’s rivals and foes in the Middle East, of NATO members and of nations that are still – at least in theory – interested in restoring the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which aimed to delay Iran’s ability to build an atomic bomb.
In fact, the war in Ukraine is already affecting everyone, everywhere. Fuel prices have increased as a result of the conflict.
If Russia is allowed to win, Putin’s war would mark the beginning of a new era of global instability, with less freedom, less peace and less prosperity for the world.
Since last year, the West has given billions of dollars to Ukraine because it has global consequences. Victory by Russia could mean new rules to the world order that global powers have lived by to avoid a third world war.
Much of what happens today far from the battlefields still has repercussions there. The US accused Saudi Arabia of helping Russia fund the war by increasing its oil revenues when Riyadh decided to slash production last month. (An accusation the Saudis deny).
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Israel is reluctant to let go of its defensive systems because it needs them for its own defense. Hamas has rockets in the south and Hezbollah has missiles in the north.
Russia launched an attack on Ukrainian ports and patrols of Black Sea, which halted food supplies and caused food prices to soar. The head of the World Food Program, David Beasley, warned in May that the world was “marching toward starvation.”
Family budgets and individual lives are affected by higher prices. When they have strong political strength, they pack a punch. Inflation, worsened by the war, has put incumbent political leaders on the defensive in countless countries.
There is more to it than on the fringes. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader who could become speaker of the House after next week’s US elections, suggested the GOP might choose to reduce aid to Ukraine. Progressive Democrats released and withdrew a letter calling for negotiations. Evelyn Farkas, a former Pentagon official during the Obama administration, said they’re all bringing “a big smile to Putin’s face.”
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For those few days during Russia’s suspension, Russian and Ukrainian inspectors did not participate, as the U.N. and Turkey continued to implement the deal. And new vessels — those not already scheduled — were unable to go to Ukraine to pick up exports, leading to a small lag in operations.
That said, the Black Sea agreement expires next month. If Russia pulls out then we’re back to where we were before, where little of the grain that’s in Ukraine would actually make it to the rest of the world.
Since Putin made a vow to deploy tens of thousands of Russian troops to “demilitarize” Ukraine a year ago, there has been little progress in resolving the conflict.
At the time, Putin insisted his forces were embarking on a “special military operation” — a term suggesting a limited campaign that would be over in a matter of weeks.
The invasion has forced millions of Ukrainians from their homes and is the largest land war in Europe since World War II.
Yet the war has also fundamentally upended Russian life — rupturing a post-Soviet period in which the country pursued, if not always democratic reforms, then at least financial integration and dialogue with the West.
Draconian laws passed since February have outlawed criticism of the military or leadership. A leading independent monitoring group says that over 20,000 people have been imprisoned for demonstrating against the war.
There are long prison sentences meted out to opposition voices who question the Russian army’s conduct or strategy.
The repressions extend elsewhere: organizations and individuals are added weekly to a growing list of “foreign agents” and “non-desirable” organizations intended to damage their reputation among the Russian public.
The human rights group was forced to cease its activities due to the foreign agents law.
The state has also vastly expanded Russia’s already restrictive anti-LGBT laws, arguing the war in Ukraine reflects a wider attack on “traditional values.”
For now, repressions remain targeted. Some of the new laws are still unenforced. But few doubt the measures are intended to crush wider dissent — should the moment arise.
Leading independent media outlets and a handful of vibrant, online investigative startups were forced to shut down or relocate abroad when confronted with new “fake news” laws that criminalized the official government line.
Restrictions extend to internet users as well. American social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook were banned in March. The Russian internet regulator has blocked more than 100,000 websites since the beginning of the conflict.
Technical workarounds such as VPNs and Telegram still offer access to Russians seeking independent sources of information. The state media has a lot to tell about Russians, with TV talk shows and propaganda on the air.
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Many perceived government opponents, including political activists, civil society workers and journalists, left in the early days of the war due to fears of persecution.
Yet Putin’s order to mobilize 300,000 additional troops in September prompted the largest outflow: Hundreds of thousands of Russian men fled to border states including Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Georgia in an attempt to avoid the draft.
Putin argued it was good riddance, part of a “self-cleansing” of Russian society from traitors and spies. Russian officials want to take away those passports of people who have left the country. Yet there are questions whether Russia can thrive without many of its best and brightest.
Meanwhile, some countries that have absorbed the Russian exodus predict their economies will grow, even as the swelling presence of Russians remains a sensitive issue to former Soviet republics in particular.
Russia’s ruble currency plummeted and banking and trading markets were shaky in the early days of the invasion. Hundreds of global corporate brands, such as McDonald’s and ExxonMobil, reduced, suspended or closed their Russian operations entirely.
Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and fuel. The Russian oil, gas and diesel that European countries relied on was banned during the first part of the year. The price hikes have been mitigated by moves by European nations to lock in alternative sources and a mild winter. Now prices have returned to pre-invasion levels.
When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine one year ago, Western countries hit back with unprecedented sanctions to punish Moscow and pile pressure on President Vladimir Putin. The aim: to deal an economic blow so severe that Putin would reconsider his brutal war.
After two decades of providing stability, Putin’s reputation has already been ruined by the economic damage and he no longer gets support from Russians who remember the chaotic years after the fall of the USSR.
When it comes to Russia’s military campaign, there’s no outward change in the government’s tone. Russia’s Defense Ministry gives daily briefings to recount their successes on the ground. Putin assures everyone that everything is going according to plan.
The length of the war suggests that Russia underestimated the willingness of the Ukrainians to resist.
Russian troops have proven unable to conquer Ukraine’s capital Kyiv or the second city of Kharkiv. Kherson, the sole major city seized by Russia, was abandoned amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive in November. Russian forces have shelled the city repeatedly since retreating.
Moscow has not been able to establish full control over the lands it now claims as its own, despite its illegal annexation of four territories of Ukraine in September.
At home, the true number of Russian losses is a taboo topic. Western estimates place the figures much higher.
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Ukrainians flee the conflict in their homeland and many Russian men attempt to avoid military service as a refugee crisis ensues from the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion. Meanwhile, it has spurred a process to expand NATO, with Sweden and Finland wanting to join after decades of official neutrality.
In Soviet times, it would have been unimaginable for a longtime ally in Central Asia to criticize Russia’s actions out of concern for their own sovereignty. India and China have eagerly purchased discounted Russian oil, but have stopped short of full-throated support for Russia’s military campaign.
A state of the nation address, originally scheduled for April, was repeatedly delayed and won’t happen until next year. Putin’s annual “direct line” — a media event in which Putin fields questions from ordinary Russians — was canceled outright.
The December big press conference, which allows the Russian leader to handle questions from the pro-Kremlin media in a semi-staged event, was tabled until 2023.
The Kremlin hasn’t given a reason for the delays. It’s thought that the Russian leader has run out of good news to share after 10 months of war and no sign of victory.
“I do think this is a critical moment,” Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told NPR. “The battlefield, as difficult as it is and as bloody as it is … is something that’s going to play a very major factor in both President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy and President [Vladimir] Putin’s calculations as to whether or not to go to the negotiating table … and under what conditions.”
“This is something that leads me to the question – for whom do we document all these crimes?” Oleksandra Matviichuk, the head of the Center for Civil Liberties, told us. Because I’m not a historian, I’m a human rights lawyer, and I document human pain to make sure they bring the Russians to justice.
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu: “Were learning lessons from the Ukrainian war, keeping an eye on China”, he told NPR
Speaking to NPR’s Leila Fadel, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said his country is learning lessons from the war in Ukraine and keeping a wary eye on China.
“They have expansionist motivation. They want to expand their influence. They want to continue to expand their power. They will continue their march if they can’t be stopped.
“We’ve managed to avoid conflict directly between great powers,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NPR. The system works for all its flaws. It’s being challenged now.
The Russian War Between Russia and the Second World War II: The tragedy of Vova and the baby of a Russian family car and the consequences for the Russian economy and economy
Natalia believes that the family car was hit by Russian forces in the first days of the war. The man and her nephew were killed. Vova survived the attack but was hospitalized for months with seven bullets in his body.
The audio for this story was produced by Danny Hajek; edited by Barrie Hardymon and Natalie Winston. Additional editing and production help from Carol Klinger, Denise Couture and Nina Kravinsky. The translation help and reporting was provided by Palamarenko and Ustova.
“The Russian economy and system of government have turned out to be much stronger than the West believed,” Putin said in a speech to Russia’s parliament Tuesday.
In fact, Russia’s average monthly oil export revenues rose by 24% last year to $18.1 billion, according to the IEA. It is unlikely that Putin will perform a repeat performance in the future.
“The era of windfall profits from the oil and gas market for Russia is over,” Janis Kluge, an expert on Russia’s economy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told CNN.
Meanwhile, the ruble has slumped to its weakest level against the US dollar since last April. The weakness of the currency has led to high inflation. And most businesses say they can’t conceive of growing right now given high levels of economic uncertainty, according to a recent survey by a Russian think tank.
Russia pushed for self-sufficiency after Putin annexed the area from the Ukranian. Through a policy known as “Fortress Russia,” the government boosted domestic food production and policymakers forced banks to build up their reserves. Ash at Chatham House said that the degree ofdurability was created by that.
Russia, the world’s second-largest exporter of crude, was able to send barrels that would have gone to Europe to countries like China and India. The International Energy Agency says the European Union was still buying 2.3 million barrels of oil a day as of November.
“It’s a question of natural resources,” Sergey Aleksashenko, Russia’s former deputy minister of finance, said at an event last month hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. He stated that it was a decline, but not a collapse.
The average price of a barrel of Urals crude, Russia’s main blend, fell to $47.80 in January after Europe’s oil embargo and a Group of Seven price cap took effect. By comparison, the global benchmark stood around $82. That suggests that customers like India and China, seeing a smaller pool of interested buyers, are negotiating greater discounts. Russia has a budget with a price of more than $70 per barrel.
Finding new buyers for processed oil products, which are also subject to new embargoes and price caps, won’t be easy either. China and India prefer to buy crude from their own refinery network, according to a Bruegel energy consultant.
The outlook for Russia’s economy and auto-industries in the upcoming four years of war: a survey by the Institute of Economic Growth
“Energy resources will be used on military needs, regardless of whether or not they are obtained,” said the acting director of the Russia Institute at Kings College London.
Firms are trying to plan for the future. According to a survey by the Institute of Economic Growth, most of the businesses surveyed want to keep production the same over the next two years but aren’t thinking about growth. The group said this contributed to a long-term stagnation of the Russian economy.
The future of the economy is dependent on developments in the war, according to a note to clients from an economist. There is a risk of shortage of workers tied to military conscription and emigration.
The sectors that rely on imports have been most vulnerable. Avtovak, the maker of the Ladas, has struggled with shortages of key components and materials.
Russia’s auto industry was already weakened after companies such as Volkswagen
(VLKAF), Renault (RNLSY), Ford (F) and Nissan (NSANF) halted production and began to sell their local assets last year. Chinese firms have stepped up their presence, part of a broader trend. Sales of new cars dropped in January by more than half, according to an international business group.
Given that Putin is committed to subsuming the Ukraine, he is unlikely to back down. But his war chest “is likely, inevitably, to diminish,” she added.
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In normal times the population would protest against that. These are not normal times.
More than 8 million refugees have fled Ukraine in what the World Health Organization describes as “the largest movement of people in the European Region since the Second World War.” Many have been involuntarily relocated by Russia. Others have put a strain on resources, as well as schools and hospitals, in Poland and Germany.
A 21st century war in Europe — led by a nuclear power — is pushing the world toward realignment. It’s made other countries take sides in ways that have resulted in increasing tensions and diplomatic shifts. For example, Turkey, despite being a NATO member, has increased trade with Russia since the start of the war and has thrown up objections to allowing Sweden and Finland into the alliance.
NPR’s Will Chase, Alex Leff, Pam Webster, Desiree F. Hicks and Nishant Dahiya contributed to this report. Previous work by several people have built on the text and graphics.
It didn’t help, added Glauber, that at various points during this period many food-producing countries responded to the invasion by banning exports of an assortment of locally produced foodstuffs in order to conserve their supply for domestic use.
Indonesia temporarily banned the export of palm oil, which accounts for over half of the world’s vegetable oil. India stopped exporting wheat because it appeared to be a large crop.
Around 15% of agricultural trade was affected at one point by the export bans. “And that only exacerbated the price volatility.”
The price hikes and export bans started to go down as it became clear that the wheat harvests were better than in the past.
“There was a big rebound in production in the northern plains of the United States and in Canada,” said Glauber. Europe had a good harvest.
“About 25 to 35% of Ukraine’s historical wheat production was in areas now occupied by Russia,” said Glauber. “And over the last year wheat production has been off by about 35%.”
He said that Ukrainian farmers did produce a large amount of food and that they faced a lot of hardship. It is a testament to them.
And they have been able to export it as a result of an agreement that Turkey brokered between Russia and Ukraine last August. This “Black Sea Grain Initiative” allows both nations to continue sending ships bearing grain through ports there.
At the same time, said Glauber, “it’s amazing” that the agreement exists at all. “I mean you have an active war going on. Within hours of the agreement being signed, a rocket hit Odessa,” he said. “I think a lot of people thought that it would be a short-lived treaty, because they thought it wouldn’t really have much impact.” Grain is being moved through those ports several months later.
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What’s more, while food prices reverted to pre-invasion levels for much of the past year, those levels are still a record high compared to the last decade.
This has made the hunger crises worse in places such as Yemen and the Horn of Africa. According to the World Food Programme, many countries are experiencing double digit food inflation, and almost one-third of the world’s people are classified as food-insecure.
Among the drivers of this continuation in high prices, said Glauber, is the fact that, notwithstanding all the strong harvests of the past year, “what we weren’t able to do is have so much additional harvest that we were able to rebuild stocks. As we start this year, the forecasts for stocks are the same as they were last year.
In other words, the world remains in a somewhat precarious situation where, if just one thing goes wrong — a worsening twist to the war in Ukraine, a bad harvest in some important supplying nation – global food prices could spike.