January 2, 2024No Comments

The fragile unity of Europe after the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Authors: Federico Alistair D'Alessio and Alessandro Spada - UK & European Affairs Team.

EU’s response

The European Union has firmly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for an immediate ceasefire, military withdrawal and the respect of Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity.

European institutions have repeatedly denounced Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, especially the indiscriminate attacks towards civilian infrastructures, hence accusing Russia of violating international law. Member states have thus strengthened both individual and economic sanctions against Russia while providing Ukraine with military equipment, humanitarian aid and financial support. For fear of an expansion of the conflict, several European governments have also significantly increased their own military spending.

While the Kremlin’s actions were unanimously condemned, the EU approach was not warmly welcomed by everyone in the European community, including the unconditional military support for Ukraine.

Division within the EU

Three apparent factions have emerged. Northern and post-communist member states fiercely supported Ukraine in the war, fearing a Russian victory that would threaten their national security. Western European countries such as France, Germany and Spain insist on vigorous diplomatic efforts and have adopted a more cautious approach. Lastly, the third bloc is composed of those members who have refused to send weapons and have expressed a rather ambiguous stance on the war, such as Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Bulgaria.

Among the first group, the Baltic states and Poland have been the most loyal partners of Ukraine for obvious historical and geopolitical reasons.

Baltic states

The firm reaction of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia did not come as a surprise, given their past experiences with invasions and annexations by the Kremlin. Their warnings on the threat posed by Russia in Central and Eastern Europe were mostly ignored or downplayed by their partners and accused of Russophobia by the Kremlin.

The Baltic States substantially increased their military spending and gradually abandoned their dependence on Russian energy after the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. Since the 2022 invasion, they have actively supported Kiev with military and humanitarian aid as they feel the fate of their nations is tightly linked to Ukraine.

They believe the only way to achieve peace is to help Ukraine win the war and force Russia back to its borders, as stated by Estonian PM Kaja Kallas. In addition, the Baltics have regularly called for stronger EU and NATO action, fearing that their allies would lose the momentum to stop Russia once and for all. As of December 2023, all three Baltic states rank in the top five GDP contributors of government support to Ukraine.

Poland 

Likewise, Poland declared not only full military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine, but also the intention of defeating Russia on all fronts as a way to achieve peace. Growing anti-Russian sentiment is evident among Poles, with a peak of 94% viewing Putin as a serious threat post-Ukraine invasion. This sharp rise has consequently brought to more positive attitudes (around 90%) towards the US, NATO and the EU.

In addition to welcoming over 3 million Ukrainian refugees, the Polish government has also mediated between Ukraine and the US, advocating for adequate protection and high-end military equipment. Moreover, their push for Ukraine's EU and NATO integration has significantly reduced EU criticism regarding the rule of law in Poland.

Nevertheless, recent grain embargo disputes have strained relations with Ukraine, leading to a Polish weapons supply halt and a potentially damaging impact on both nations.

United Kingdom

Despite the UK leaving the EU, it is crucial to also analyse the reaction of the British government given its historical role as a security guarantor in Europe. On November 16, 2023, Foreign Secretary David Cameron reaffirmed support for Ukraine against Putin's aggression. The UK, a leading supporter, provides significant military, humanitarian, and financial aid, ranking as the third-largest donor behind the US and Germany. It was the first to supply cruise missilesand depleted uranium munitions to Kyiv and additionally implemented a series of sanctions against Moscow. The British Government advocates for a shorter Ukraine's path to NATO membership by removing the need for a Membership Action Plan, as a result of the summit held in Vilnius last July. Furthermore, secret talks between UK officials and key Russian representatives have reportedly taken place, discussing security matters such as grain shortages and nuclear safety.

Source: Dusan_Cvetanovic / Pixabay 

France

While President Macron has supported Ukraine since the outbreak of the conflict, he has kept a more diplomatic stance in comparison to other European leaders. A few weeks before Russia's invasion, he attempted to dissuade Putin and emphasised avoiding humiliation for diplomatic solutions. During an April visit to China, Macron urged Xi Jinping for a mediation in favour of a return to the “negotiating table”. Despite fewer arms transfers (data from Sept. 26, 2022, to Nov. 30, 2023) to Ukraine compared to some NATO allies, France ultimately backs Ukraine's NATO accession to increase pressure on Russia and pave the way for post-war negotiations.

Germany

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine forced Germany to reassess its role in the world, shifting from "chequebook diplomacy" to increased military involvement. As the second-largest arms supplier (commitments Jan. 24, 2022, to Oct. 31, 2023) of Ukraine after the US, Germany has invested €100 billion in a military fund for modern weapons and committed to meeting NATO's 2% GDP defence spending target. Chancellor Olaf Scholz also encouraged China to use its influence to promote diplomatic solutions. Germany opposes immediate NATO membership for Ukraine, fearing direct conflict with Russia and citing unresolved border conflicts as a hindrance. Additionally, Germany is pushing for a reform plan where the conditions listed must be met in order to initiate a discussion on the membership.

Hungary

As previously mentioned, Hungary has condemned Russian aggression while adopting a questionable approach to dealing with the Kremlin.

Firstly, PM Viktor Orbán decided to abstain from sending military support to Kiev and even agreed on a new gas deal with Moscow a few months after the invasion started. In addition, state-controlled media outlets have continued to spread pro-Russian propaganda, including criticism against the sanctions imposed on Russia. Orban has also recently requested the EU to reassess their strategy in the war while threatening to halt all support to Ukraine.

This peculiar reaction to the Russian invasion reflects the local population as well. According to a recent poll, only 33% of Hungarians consider Russia a major military threat. Another vital figure to mention is the Hungarian perception of the US and Russia: only 17% believe the United States are an important partner, comparable to the 11% that think Russia is. This data openly displays how divergent Budapest’s attitude is from the rest of the EU.

Conclusion

The EU’s unified reaction was initially seen as an opportunity to create a new and common geopolitical strategy. Despite claims of unity, the EU is increasingly divided between those prioritising peace diplomatically and those insisting on justice achieved solely through a Russian military defeat.

This crisis has also exposed the union’s reliance on the US and NATO in terms of defence and intelligence. This is mainly due to the fact that the EU was conceived as a political and economic institution, rather than a military power. However, given that European cohesion has also emerged thanks to continuous information provided by Washington, this poses the risk of condemning Europe to political and military irrelevance. Historical security leaders, such as the UK and France, face several challenges - with Germany expected to play a pivotal role.

Moreover, debates on EU military independence versus complementarity with NATO face growing divisions among member states, evident in recent controversies and wavering support for Ukraine - such as the case of neighbouring Slovakia. The question remains whether the EU can establish an independent defence system amid increasing uncertainties.

December 22, 2023No Comments

Forging Futures: The Role of Transitional Justice and Victim Participation in Trials for Post-Conflict Ukraine

Author: Eleanora Takitzi - Russia Team

What Is Transitional Justice?

Justice for the victims of international crimes encompasses a crucial facet of post-conflict societies. Albeit its significance, justice for victims remains a highly elusive, subjective concept that amalgamates elements of both retributive and transitional justice. To explain, retributive justice represents the traditional punishment of the wrongdoer, whereas transitional justice focuses on the needs of the victims, thus prioritising reparations and the establishment of a truthful record of events. Particularly, reparations are a symbolic way of compensation for the suffering of the victims, taking either monetary or non-monetary forms by means of collective or moral reparations. On the other hand, truth establishment can be pursued through different avenues, ranging from truth commissions and forensic investigations to witness testimonies and formal apologies.

Arguably, retributive justice, in the form of legal accountability, comprises a pivotal aspect, with many victims expecting to see the wrongdoers punished for their crimes. However, in recent times, transitional justice frameworks, with a growing emphasis on the participation of victims in trials, have gained significant traction, largely spurred by the Ukraine-Russia conflict.  

Victim Participation in Trials: Why Is It Controversial?

Victim participation in trials is a relatively novel development in the field of international criminal law, originating in the French criminal procedure that permits victims to participate in trials as parties against the accused and claim reparations. Victim participation in trials, however, is frequently opposed due to the principle of equality of arms under international law, whereby the parties involved in a trial, namely the prosecution and defence, should be able to present their case under circumstances that do not place them in an unfavourable position against their opponent. If victims are allowed to participate as a third, separate party in direct opposition to the accused alongside the prosecutor, then the accused’s rights of the accused will undoubtedly be affected. 

Victim Participation in Trials: Why Is It Important for Post-Conflict Ukraine?

Despite the present contestations over the participation of victims in trials under international law, many experts have used their voices to explain the value of victim participation in equipping victims with a reparative effect. 

In particular, the establishment of truth is the cornerstone of the rule of law, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights remarking that victims are entitled to “the full and complete truth as to the events that transpired”. Although the truth is objective, it is never one-sided; accordingly, adopting a pluralist approach whereby the victims are granted the possibility to hear the perpetrators exposing their own truth and narrating the events from their perspective establishes a fuller record of events. In turn, a (more) complete version of the truth can bring victims closer to healing and recuperation.

What is more, victim participation bestows on victims a platform where they can have their voice and suffering heard. Not only would such visibility empower victims, but also it would foster national reconciliation by affirming a sense of humanity in the highly technical and legalistic environment of trials.

Source: : https://unsplash.com/photos/woman-holding-sword-statue-during-daytime-DZpc4UY8ZtY

Lastly, reparations are powerful mechanisms to compensate for the harm and loss suffered by victims. As the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, explain, reparations are “arguably the most victim-centred justice mechanism available and the most significant means of making a difference in the lives of victims” (para 26). Indeed, reparations can contribute to the rebuilding of post-conflict societies, thus bolstering confidence in the state apparatus and leading to more durable peace.

Some Concluding Remarks

According to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, states must “act both against perpetrators and on behalf of victims” (para 26). Judging from the manifest resoluteness of the international community to condemn Russia’s activities and hold culpable individuals accountable, the concept of transitional justice harbours the potential for practical deployment to the advantage of post-conflict Ukraine, despite legal reservations. The prospect of allowing victims to participate in the trials of individuals who have committed, authorised, or overseen atrocities on Ukrainian soil during the conflict would serve as a beacon of justice and empowerment for the victims. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the active involvement of victims in trials would send a powerful message against impunity, reiterating the commitment of the international arena to uphold legal accountability and achieve justice for the most aggrieved by the conflict, the victims. As the Victims Commissioner elucidates, “the time has come to re-conceptualise the status of victims so that they are seen as active participants from the point the crime is committed throughout the criminal justice process and beyond”.

August 4, 2023No Comments

Dr. Sergii Masol on international criminal law in the context of the Russo-Ukrainian war

In this podcast episode, Dr. Sergii Masol talks about the ongoing violation of human rights in Ukraine from the perspective of the law. This small, but informative, talk covers the nature of human rights and international criminal law; the Ukranian Conflict; and the legal status of mercenary groups (e.g. Wagner Group).

Dr. Sergii Masol is Humboldt postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cologne. Sergii obtained his doctorate in law from the European University Institute in Florence, where he also worked as a research assistant.

Interviewer: Vittoria Brunazzo - Human Rights Team

April 4, 2023No Comments

Germany and other European countries supply Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Authors: Alessandro Spada, Francesca Belotti and Januaria Gizzi - UK & European Affairs Team

Exactly one year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both countries are at an impasse. On the one hand, Moscow has not obtained as many territories as it had wanted; on the other hand, the Ukrainian resistance has yet to make any progress in defeating Putin. This might be due to the lack of weapons at Kyiv's disposal. Indeed, until a few days ago, only lighter weaponry was given to Zelensky's troops to keep their line of defence intact. Unfortunately, a war cannot be won by playing only defence, so Kyiv has started asking its Western allies for additional support. In particular, Germany and the USA were asked to supply its high-tech Leopard 2 tanks, although, with initial insecurity, such a wish was finally granted.

The reasons behind the reluctance

The main reasons Germany was reluctant to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine are the following. The first one is certainly linked to the vast historical significance of World Wars One and Two. German modern-day leaders feel the weight of history, meaning that they feel a deep responsibility for the death of millions of Russians during the two world wars. Indeed, as the aggressor in two world wars, many Germans opt for a cautious line of being Ukraine's leading supplier of battle tanks. Moreover, this decision would be a further break for Berlin with its post-World War Two non-belligerent policy.

The second reason is related to German society. A significant segment of the population, particularly situated in the former communist German Democratic Republic, feels traditionally close to Russia and has an aversion to the values and functioning of Western society. Shortly before Christmas, 40% of Germans who took part in a poll said they recognized the Kremlin's justification to invade Ukraine, blaming the West for the eastward expansion of the Nato military alliance. In addition, according to a Jan. 19 poll, only 46% of Germans were in favour compared to 43% who opposed the supply of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

The third reason is Scholz's governing coalition and even the SPD. The German Chancellor Scholz couldn't ignore the strong pacifist wings inside both major parties to its governing coalition, the Social Democrats and the Greens. Especially, many Social Democrats voters live in former East Germany, which has been more sympathetic to Moscow".

Another reason for such reluctance would be that the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, wouldn't have authorized any Leopard 2 tank supply to Ukraine unless the US government agreed to send M1 Abrams tanks.

Lastly, granting Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine could mean overstepping Germany's position as a mere weapons supplier and cause a military escalation.

Source:shorturl.at/bdoIJ

The two sides' reactions

Ultimately, the decision of Germany to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine generated some reactions at the international level. How did Russia react to this decision? Can we consider this decision proof that the Western powers are escalating into war more than before?

From a realist perspective, we could say that Russia perceived this decision as a proper threat, which will most likely reflect in Russia counter-attacking or entering a defensive approach towards Germany and the West in particular. Hence, in a statement, the Russian Embassy said that the current conflict would escalate to a new level.

Western powers play an essential role in understanding the reactions. First of all, NATO utterly supported Germany's decision, making clear that it would help Ukraine win against Russia. From this, Russia's threat perception has significantly increased, allowing Russia to undermine the Western powers consequently. Interestingly, the position of Britain in this given context reflected on Rishi Sunak, the current Prime Minister, to underpin Steffen Hebestreit's decision-making. Thus, the British Prime Minister clearly expressed his position on Twitter by saying, "The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine's defensive firepower," and "Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace.".

In a nutshell, the decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was made to help it defend itself better, but it was not made lightly. The fears of becoming too involved in a war "that is not ours to fight", the weight of history, and the pacifistic forces within Germany's main parties were all weighed carefully before lending the peculiar tanks to Ukraine. Unfortunately, this is not the end of the conflict or the requests. Indeed, the day after the announcement made by the Chancellery, a new request for fighter jets was filed by Kyiv in order to switch strategy to an attack-based one. Western ally has yet to respond positively to a possible supply of fighter jets, but all remains to be seen. Will the West stand by, or will it contribute even more than it already has?

March 14, 2023No Comments

Dr Marco Bocchese on international relations and law concerning the Ukraine-Russia war

Marco Bocchese is an Assistant Professor at the Webster Vienna private University specialized in international relations and law. He also got a PhD at Northwestern University in International Relations.

In this session, Dr Marco Bocchese talks about the relationship between international law and the Ukraine-Russia war, with specific reference to private paramilitary organisations and nuclear weapons. He also discusses the impact the war has had on international relations.

Interviewers: Patrick René Haasler and Eleanora Takitzi - Russia & the Post-Soviet Team

March 13, 2023No Comments

Prof. Inderjeet Parmar on the US and the world in 2023

Prof. Inderjeet Parmar talks about the United States domestic and foreign policy in 2023. Parmar is a professor of international politics at the City, University of London, and co-editor of the book series "Routledge Studies in US Foreign Policy".

In this session, he discusses the future of the Republican Party and former President Trump heading towards the 2024 elections, before shifting the focus overseas. The main issues addressed are American interests in the Indo-Pacific, including discussions on India, QUAD, and Taiwan, the Ukraine war and its impact on the international order, and the special relationship between the US and the UK.

Interviewers: Giovanni Luca Catucci and Anurag Mishra - US Team

November 21, 2022No Comments

Hypersonic Missiles: A sum zero game to Strategic Stability

Authors: Andre Carvalho and Marco Verrochio.

On March 19 for the first time, TV channels broadcasted that Russia successfully used two Kinzhal type hypersonic missiles in the war against Ukraine. It was the first time hypersonic missiles have been used in combat despite President Putin's presentation of the Kinzhal missile in March 2018. Non-specialized media started to be attracted by these new weapons, especially due to their high performance and their abilities to escape countermeasures. A Hypersonic missile, in some aspects, goes far beyond the capabilities of other conventional supersonic missiles. Supersonic missiles fly between 1.000 km/h and 5.000 km/h, while hypersonic missiles travel above 5.000 km/h, reaching about 25.000 km/h. Moreover, they fly at unusual altitudes and can change trajectory and target during the route.

Hypersonic missles can be devided in two categories. Hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCMs). Usually, an HCM is launched by an aircraft and uses scramjets engines to sustain a speed above 5.000 Km/h. The Russian Kinzhal missile and the American Boeing X-51 are in this category. On the other hand, a rocket boosts the HGV to reach high speed and high altitude, usually above 100.000 feet. The HGV plays as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle using manoeuvres to maintain stability and to avoid detection by ground-based radars and sensors, maintaining the target unpredictable until a few seconds before the strike. Examples of HGVs include the Chinese Dong Feng-17, the Russian Avangard and the US PGS program. The primary concern regarding HGVs is their possibility of carrying a nuclear warhead. It increases the crisis instability in a confrontation, giving an advantage to the country striking first.

Nonetheless, the dyadic categorization between HCM and HGV ends up oversimplifying the hypersonic design possibilities, mainly because conventional ballistic missiles can also travel at hypersonic speed. According to a SIPRI report, HGVs and HCMs travel slower than ballistic missiles. In the same way, Maneuverable Re-entry Vehicles (MaRVs) – such as the Chinese DF- 21 Carrier Killer – can perform in-flight manoeuvres pulling high-G turns at hypersonic speed. Therefore, what differentiates HGVs and HCMs from other missile systems is the combination of speed with endoatmospheric maneuverability while maintaining hypersonic speed throughout the flight.

Kh-47M2 Kinzhal on a MiG-31KImage SourceWikimedia Commons

The mix of maneuverability, hypersonic speed, unpredictability of trajectory and the capability of conducting effective flights in low altitude can be considered both an advantage and a challenge for global security, especially strategic stability. The US, China and Russia are the nations on the forefront in this technology. Tod ay, d eveloping hypersonic missiles requires ad vanced technological development and massive investments. For this reason, they are prod uced in limited numbers. Nonetheless, other countries such as India, Brazil, the UK, Australia, and Japan are also interested in planning a series of investments and conducting tests of scramjet vehicles. As time goes on, the knowledge and the use of strategic foreign investments will increase the proliferation of these weapons. In a contingency scenario, hypersonic missiles will give a tremendous advantage to the aggressor since the combination of speed, maneuverability and their limited detectability by ground-based radars can result in target ambiguity, inaccurate warning times, and ineffective defence. The Rand Corporation had already warned about the proliferation of this technology proposing a non-proliferation agreement sponsored by major players (e.g. USA, China, and Russia) based on the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). However, the geopolitical tension between US and China and the war in Ukraine demonstrated little interest in multilateral talks, especially on strategic weapons.

It is worth mentioning that, even though non-proliferation talks are relevant, there is a trend among analysts to magnify the potential destructive effects of emerging technologies before their actual introduction and use. This happened in the past with the introduction of strategic bombers and still happens nowadays with hypersonic technology. High-speed delivering missiles have been around for years. Now, new strides in precision, range and maneuverability make them the new trend that competing states seek to acquire to increase their relative power positions.

In the current situation, hypersonic missiles are still on a development stage and their use in conflict is limited to single actions. They are included in the arrays of solutions to strike strategic targets but the reason for their use is still more for deterrence purposes rather than an effective means for military service. Nonetheless, they still exert a significant impact on strategic stability. Regarding deterrence, the speed and precision of hypersonic weapons will leave the option for a decapitating first strike always open, which is inherently destabilizing. Crisis stability can also become unstable due to the hypersonic impact on deterrence since it compresses the decision- making time to just a few minutes, resulting in a first-mover advantage.

For Western analysts, the Kinzhal in Ukraine was a warning from Putin that Russia would not hesitate to resort to advanced technological weapons, destabilizing the global balance of power. Although the world is a dangerous place with or without hypersonic weapons, an arms control arrangement would be necessary. In the future will be essential to strengthen stability, putting a set of limitations on the ‘action-reaction’ cycle that keeps significant players involved in arms race dynamics. However, it is paramount to acknowledge that any agreement regarding hypersonic weapons that limits the speed and range of vehicles would hardly be ratified. There is more chance of success limiting range and speed would affect a large scale of existing ballistic missiles that have a considerable strategic effect and are significantly cheaper than hypersonic missiles. In addition, as mentioned before, several other countries are on the path of pursuit of hypersonic speed and have their indigenous R&D programmes, which makes the possibility of an agreement even more difficult to achieve.

Nowadays, the prospects for hypersonic defence are still low. However, some strides are being made identifying that a robust ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance), along with space-based systems, are key factors for tracking a hypersonic missile for the entirety of its trajectory, enabling multiple interception attempts. Therefore, until the international environment will be ready the only hopes to counter hypersonic missiles lies in developing effective countermeasures for the near future.

October 10, 2022No Comments

Things are not going according to the plan for Russians in Ukraine

Authors: Igor Shchebetun, Fabrizio Napoli, Davide Gobbicchi and Greta Bordin.

A war without logistics is simply an outrage.

At the very beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, the kilometer-long queue of Russian armor entering Ukraine was simply stretched so far that it could not ensure maneuverability, safety and combat effectiveness in terms of deployment in combat formation and readiness to attack or repel attacks. Looking at the first few days, it is clear that the Russian forces have not made as much progress as they originally planned. The reason for this is that the Russian armed forces are primarily an artillery army, but so far they have used some of their available firepower. Russia is essentially trying to carry out a full-scale invasion without the military operations it would require. And as shocking as the scenes from some cities may seem, Russia is looking for a cheap and easy victory with low civilian casualties. In other words, Russia is holding back as they represent themselves. However, as sanctions steadily take effect, Putin escalate the lethality of his war plan. Achieving a breakthrough without getting in the mud. For Ukrainians, this means the worst is yet to come. Like jumping into a pool before checking for water, Russia's invasion of Ukraine is not going according to plan. Technically, Ukraine and Russia have been at war since 2014. The violence has never stopped, but the recent attack is something else.

A new chapter in Ukraine's struggle for statehood. Russia's original plan included a "mad dash" into Kiev, forcing the Ukrainian government to capitulate, while pushing small units to quickly seize strategic transport interchanges to avoid a larger clash with Ukrainian forces. This is a strategy similar to the 2014 seizure of Crimea, when Russian green men forced Ukrainian troops out of their bases but they could not and showed Russia real face in action . Then, as now, the plan of attack was to win with little cost and few civilian casualties. The Russian leadership entered this war knowing that it would be extremely unpopular at home. So they sought to keep death and destruction to a minimum. As a result, the Russian military attempted comes to mass casualties, abuse of civilians, mass rape, destruction of the Ukrainian people and their identity through genocide. What Russia is doing in Ukraine can best be described Putin’s Russia ideology and they values.

Regardless huge experience of military operations Russian army has performed poorly. Ukrainian forces fought back hard, exceeding expectations and playing on Russia's logistical vulnerabilities. For example, by blowing up railroads from and to Russia, Ukraine forced Russian Logistics to switch from rail transport to truck transport. Ukrainian fighters on the ground and Bayraktar drones in the air then targeted these field trucks. Without fuel, tanks and other vehicles are useless. And fuel trucks are an easier target than tanks. Thus, Ukraine played on Russia's self-confidence. At the same time, Russian units are not fighting an all-out war. Instead, in the first few days we saw small units advancing, tanks moving without infantry, planes flying into hostile airspace, and supplies running low. Much of Russia's decision-making seems unnecessary and risky. Instead of operational needs, tactical planning is driven by institutional needs. Probably on the grounds Russians thought they could avoid heavy fighting, at least initially. Moreover, the Kremlin underestimated the Ukrainian will to fight. For example, after several days of fighting in Ukraine and after Russian troops began to suffer casualties, the Russian Ministry of Health mobilized civilian doctors throughout the country.

Image Source: https://www.globsec.org/publications/interim-conclusions-on-the-consequences-of-the-russian-war-against-ukraine-2-2/ Conceptual image of war between Russia and Ukraine with shadow of soldier against wall with national flag background

The fact that the Russians did not do so on the first day suggests that they did not expect things to go so badly. In fact, the Kremlin tried to win the victory at little cost and to do it quickly in order to avoid the worst of the sanctions. Now they find themselves in the worst of all worlds. Putting resources into a bad strategy. That said, Ukraine would not want to celebrate too soon. Although the Russian leadership has underestimated Ukraine's will for war, it would also be a mistake to measure the strength of the Russian army by its territorial gains. The Russian full invasion especially considering the impossibility of providing and supplying all or at least the bare necessities of their mobilized has nothing to boast about so far. But the leadership in Moscow does not have the resources for a prolonged violent occupation. Social and political pressure is already beginning to show inside Russia. The war in Ukraine is unpopular and unexpected, and as the death toll continues to rise, anti-war sentiment in Russia is likely to intensify by the day. Putin needs a resolution to the war, or he will create serious problems at home. However, he cannot back down now without losing face.

Thus, the Kremlin need to intensify the lethality of its military plan and they do that to achieve its goals and achieve some kind of breakthrough. The Russian military started striking public infrastructure and residential areas. Civilian casualties increased, and the goal would be to force Zelensky into negotiations. But as we can see, Russia has forgotten the lessons of Ukrainian history and has drowned in its own illusions that Ukrainians and Russians are one people. Different mentality, values, attitude to people, to hostages and to the enemy, the concept of development, the art of fighting and the will to win appear more and more.

Putin's plank for a negotiated solution is for Ukraine to cede Crimea to Russia and agree to some form of neutrality or federalization and perhaps a constitutional restriction on the Ukrainian army, something like the Japanese situation. Zelensky is unlikely to agree to these demands, which means that the fight will drag on for some time. And this is where predictions become unreliable. The longer the war goes on, the more the Ukrainian battle space becomes similar to the Syrian one, but the opposite is also true: the longer the fighting goes on, the more sanctions will be imposed. A prolonged war will damage Ukraine, but it will also shake the foundations of Putin's power at home. And while a palace coup remains unlikely, as the war reaches home, the odds of success will gradually turn against Putin. So now the Russian leadership is in rescue mode. They need to get out of Ukraine while saving face. It is in Putin's interest to start negotiations as early as possible, while Zelensky would be doing the right thing if he delayed negotiations until sanctions begin to cut into Russia's skin, albeit at the risk of ruining Ukraine.

July 18, 2022No Comments

Russia’s Plans for War with Ukraine

Authors: Igor Shchebetun, Greta Bordin, Fabrizio Napoli and Davide Gobbicchi.

Why war is happening, what could justify an invasion of a sovereign independent state such as Ukraine? The only way to answer this question is to look at the situation from Russia's perspective. Because despite the raging battles on the ground, the war is not really about Ukraine, but about Russia and its pursuit of geopolitics.

This concerns the Kremlin and its relationship with the White House. One of Russia's initial demands for de - escalation shortly before the war began was for NATO to wind down its activities in Eastern Europe, and that is what it ultimately comes down to. Geopolitically, the war is more than Ukraine; it is Russia's attempt to restore a multipolar world order that has been lost as a gambler making a living off false hopes. Russia believes that either it must be a world power or it will not be. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a turning point in world geopolitics. No fewer than 14 Union republics seceded and declared sovereignty and independence. The Russian Federation lost centuries of geopolitical struggle. Russia was pushed back to the territorial boundaries of the 18th century. To this day, with the collapse of the USSR come broken promises, falling health care, industrial decline, and kinship ties replaced by hostility and all those glorious technological wonders and infrastructure projects left to rot. 

Part of the Russian rationale for invading Ukraine is the core theory The core theory divides the world into three bodies, the first body being the world islands, which consist of Europe, Asia and Africa, the second body refers to shelf islands such as the British islands and the Japanese archipelago, while the third body points to America and Australia as distant islands within these parameters, focusing on the world islands because they are the most populous and resource-rich continent. Imagine if a superstate controlled politics from France to China, from Saudi Arabia to South Africa, this power would have the technological prowess of Europe, the resources of Africa, and the labor force of Asia, and nothing would stand in its way, so whoever controls the world island would have the means to dominate the globe, but within the world island.

There is a heart region that extends from the Volga  River to the Yangtze and from the Arctic to the Caspian Sea. This heart region is the area from which one power can For example, Alexander Dugin, who is Russia's most influential political orator, has consistently argued for the creation of a Russian power in Eurasia, while the Russian political elite, known as the siloviki, still adhered to the focal point theory. From St. Petersburg to Kazan and Volgograd extends the Russian core 80 percent of the Russian population lives in this area, and most of the Kremlin's decisions are based on the needs and interests of its core, but the terrain itself is flat, and parts of Europe are part of Russia.

Image Source: https://www.deviantart.com/ynot1989/art/Russo-Ukrainian-War-Areas-of-Russian-Control-908348937

To put pressure on the Russian core from the Swedish invasion in the 18th century to the German invasions in the 20th century many European powers have tried to subdue Russia by going through the Baltics today but Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are part of Nato, making them beyond the reach of Russian enslavement, however, geopolitics dictates that Russia take over the Baltics if the opportunity presents itself, allowing Russians to connect the Kaliningrad region to mainland Russia. Control of the Baltics would also strengthen Russia's presence and power on the Baltic Sea as a whole, while the Carpathians represent a favorable bridgehead for the Russians, a buffer against the marching armies carpeting If the European plane represents a highway for invading armies, the Carpathians are a speed bump in the middle of that highway whose strategic depth is priceless, and this consideration is the ultimate justification for Russian invasion. Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the same time means that Russia's goal in Ukraine is to take over the whole country, so as much as the rhetoric focuses on the Donbass, Kharkov, Kiev, and Odessa, it misses the more important point from the Russian perspective, they need to advance as far as the Carpathian mountains.

So Russia needs all of Ukraine, but also all of Moldova, when Lukashenko spoke to members of the Belarusian Security Council, the map he used had an arrow going to the Moldovan separatist region of Transnistria, so if Russia's military invasion of Ukraine were more successful, there would be fighting in Moldova. By and large, with the invasion of Ukraine, Russia sought to drop anchor, seizing all of Ukraine and eventually Moldavia. Russia would have restored some of the Soviet borders enough to reduce its European airplane flights to 600 kilometers. which is a significant reduction from the current 2,000 kilometers. Ideally, the Russians would like to advance as far west as they can, preferably capturing all of Poland and the Baltics. If Russia wins, the Baltics and Poland would be next, count on it.

Likewise, if Russia loses the war in Ukraine or can't get everything today, it will try again tomorrow, and no treaties and armistice will last long. Think of the European plane as a chess game where each player seeks to maximize the position of his pawns, strategically placing them the further east NATO  moves into the European plane. Eastward on the European plane toward the Russian Federation, the more flexible its strategic planning becomes and the more room for error it gets. For example, to the east of the border with Ukraine, the flat terrain of the European plane continues uninterrupted for 750 kilometers to the shoreline of the Caspian Sea. The Volgograd Gap is fundamental to the existence of the Russian state; if a hostile force closes this gap, it will deprive Russia of its connections to the Caucasus, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and NATO-allied Ukraine will no doubt try to exploit this vulnerability.

A Russian-controlled Ukraine would militarize Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states even more than it does now. Russia believes that it can elevate itself as a leading world power while securing its core demographic space, based on this for Russia it is either expand or die Russian politicians especially given the fact that political legitimacy depends on military conquest.

July 3, 2022No Comments

Food Uncertainty: The overlooked consequences of Putin’s actions

Author: Miguel Jiménez.

In this increasing globalized world interdependencies are strengthened, and countries become very import-dependent to satisfy its citizens’ daily needs. Obviously, some of these needs are more important than others. For instance, the achievement of food security is one of them and it represents one of the biggest challenges of our time. Developing countries suffer from this illness the most, and this issue is often overlooked. Climate change and Covid 19 have made this goal even more unreachable by disrupting supply chains and fostering autarky. The current invasion is the cherry on top as it has closed down a major stream of food imports for low-income countries.

Beyond the Two Main Actors

June 24th marks the 4th month of Russian invasion in Ukraine. Roughly 120 days of ongoing humanitarian crisis which have resulted in the death of 4,266 civilians and the displacement of millions to neighboring countries. Negative economic effects have been even more immediate, with the markets of several sectors plummeting. The biggest toll is undoubtedly being suffered by Ukraine and Russia. According to the IMF, by the end of 2022, the former is expected to suffer a severed doble digit drop in GDP and the latter a large contraction.

However, besides the negative effects that the invader and the invaded are suffering, as well as the energy crisis especially striking Europe, the interruption in the supply and markets of crops due to the invasion may result in a major threat to food security in the developing world. Disruptions in the global food supply are not a new phenomenon. Between 2002 and 2008, the nominal price of food doubled as a result of droughts in food-exporting countries, food export bans and high energy prices. Nevertheless, current disruptions are unprecedented if the destructive impact of the invasion is coupled with other hunger-drivers such as COVID 19’s long-lasting effects and the devastating escalation of climate shocks.

To put it into context, Russia and Ukraine are agricultural production powerhouses. Together, they supply 12% of the world’s traded calories, mainly composed of wheat, barley, maize and sunflower oil. Yet, when one analyses the share that this represents in some of the importing countries, the strong dependence of the developing world comes to the surface.  According to the FAO, 26 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for at least 50 percent of their wheat imports

The Enemies of Trade

These agriculture-market disruptions are caused by two major factors. Firstly, in order to erode the resistance put up by Ukrainians, Russia has been targeting all aspects of Ukraine’s agriculture with the intention of crippling a major source of the country’s income. Secondly, aside from hindering production, harvested crops have few ways of reaching offshore as Russia set a naval blockade in one of the main trading routes, the Black Sea.  Thus, by March, record highs in the food market were reached, more concretely, in the FAO’s Cereal Price Index, Vegetable Oil Price Index and Meat Price Index

Seeking for alternative producers would be the most coherent move by countries in need, as we are currently seeing with the restructuring of the energy trade. There are certainly alternative producers which under “normal circumstances” could step up and take care of the lack of supply. However, to make matters worse, offsetting production shortages and the disrupted supply channels is prevented by two reasons.

 On the one hand, the effects of climate change are becoming a major barrier for stable crop production. For instance, the delayed rains in China and extreme temperatures in India, largest and second largest wheat producers in the world respectively, are sapping yields in breadbaskets. On the other hand, rising inflationary pressures, aggravated by the economic sanctions implemented to punish the invasor, have limited fertilizer exports from Russia and Belarus, inhibiting western farmers to boost productivity and capitalize on higher global prices.

From Coup d’ État to Devastating Famines

The mismatch between supply and demand is likely to extend to middle-income countries as well. The deployment of unprecedented fiscal packages during the pandemics to ensure a social safety net exhausted middle-income countries’ savings making them exceptionally poorly placed to cope with increased food insecurity. The combination of these factors created a weak balance which has been tilted by the invasion, resulting in civil unrest and devastating famines that are just starting.

Analysts are drawing parallels with the Arab spring revolts. Precisely one of the triggers for the outbreak of the coup d’état back in 2011 was attributed to high food prices. Currently, this factor has ultimately ousted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, incentivized the rise of deadly protests in Peru, and increased the likelihood of civil unrest by the end of the year in countries such as Philippines, Argentina and Tunisia

Nevertheless, these consequences are mild relative to the massive famines that this invasion is causing and can cause in low-income countries.  Food insecurity is a recurring trend in those parts of the world, and poor households tend to spend more of their budget on food. For instance, a sub-Saharan household spends up to 40% of their income in food. Therefore, a slight increase in such inelastic goods translates into a major shock for the household income. According to the FAO, food insecurity will worsen throughout this year in 20 “hunger hotspots and are in need of urgent humanitarian actions. Hunger hotspots stand for places where hunger is most severe. These countries tend to carry the burden of ongoing religious or ethnic-prone domestic conflicts as well. South Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia are perhaps the best examples of this perfect storm.

How do We Bring Back the Balance?

With this devastating scenario ahead, what is to be done to reestablish food supply chains and resume production? Attempting to restore damaged crops in highly disputed areas  appears to be an impossible task for the time being, if we consider that the Ukrainian government forecasted the invasion to last until winter. The end of the war would not make the Black sea route viable in months either, as Ukraine has defended its coastline with mines and strategically sunk ships. What’s worse, reinforcing the creation of alternative trade routes does not seem viable as Ukraine’s rail system is wider than the EU’s, meaning loads would have to be switched to different wagons. Furthermore, grain wouldn’t even be reaching the places where it is needed most. These factors lead to the conclusion that the short-term solution for avoiding unprecedented famines ought to be outside of Ukraine. 

Without overlooking Russia’s role in creating this situation, easing up on sanctions and switching the final use of crops may alleviate it. Firstly, the export of fertilizers account for less than 5 percent of Russia’s GDP yet it deeply has an impact on farmers’ decisions on what to grow, and in turn, prevents meeting developing countries’ demand. Thus, lifting sanctions on fertilizers could improve the situation. Secondly, about 10 percent of all grains are used to make biofuel and 18 percent of vegetable oil go to make biodiesel. To put it into perspective, that percentage of vegetable oil contains an amount of calories sufficient to feed more than 320 million people per year. Weakening biofuel mandates just like Finland and Croatia have done, should become the immediate trend. 

One last resort is to rely on one of the most used development tools, aid. The US announced more than $320 million in humanitarian assistance in the horn of Africa. Yet even this falls short, as the amount of aid now is worth much less than a few years ago due to the ongoing inflation. 

Conclusion

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the last event of a chain of events that have worsened the very fragile state of the developing world. The complexity of the situation makes finding a solution very tough and compromising already existing alliances.  In spite of the fact that lifting sanctions may seem controversial, millions dying from starvation far outweighs avoiding financing Putin’s war. Even more if some of those restrictions, such as fertilizers and food, account for very little of Russia’s GDP and so much for millions of developing countries’ households.