Putin’s invasion of my home country, Ukraine, may one day be seen as the spark that ignited the next generation of global conflict. Yes, call it a Third World War, but I mean a world at war in twenty-first century style. Yes, a new blatant era of colonialism and gunboat diplomacy – but one also in which the economic matrix that holds populations and continents together itself becomes weaponised. Where the ability to cause suffering must be exploited to increase leverage elsewhere.
This is not an analysis born of hyperbole – Vladimir Putin’s actions have been that wholly reactionary, amoral, and terrible. Russia’s tyrant is not just threatening Ukraine’s future, he is threatening the future of our shared stable, democratic and multilateral world order. And we all must respond appropriately.
The shockwaves of Russia’s illegal and irrational war already shudder all over the planet. Putin’s so-called “special operation” has not been limited or specific in any way – it has catalysed enormous emergency events. Each continent is now suffering the growing global recession. We all face the long-dormant risk of nuclear catastrophe. Millions around the entire globe face life-threatening shortages of food or the fertilisers to grow crops. And as winter approaches, the weaponisation of energy is further redoubling dire societal and individual distress.
The Kremlin’s invasion alibi reveals just how delusional the Moscow elite have become. Putin’s propaganda machine promotes the falsehood that Ukraine and Russia are one country, that our people are theirs, wilfully cancelling Ukraine’s long and proud pre-Soviet history as an independent, sovereign state with its own, distinct national identity. Make no mistake, ours is an existential struggle against a ruthless invader.
For hundreds of years Russia has coveted Ukrainian lands and subjected our people to countless horrors, most infamously the Holodomor, a deliberate famine that Stalin unleashed on my grandparents’ generation, killing millions. Now once more, Russia bends to the will of a dictator who, intent on genocide, seeks to wipe us from the face of the earth.
Yet it is not only my fellow countrymen who should fear Putin’s twisted ambitions. They go much further than the subjugation of a neighbour.
The international community already understands that Russia is willing to weaponise energy, as he has throttled energy supplies to mainland Europe leading to rapid inflation and likely recessions that will reveberate around the globe and set in train a global financial meltdown. But this is a mere precursor of the pain to come. After all, the Kremlin has already shown that it is prepared to use a nuclear fallout as a strategic weapon.
Worse, and terrifyingly like Joseph Stalin before him, Putin is wielding starvation across continents as a weapon and it is the world’s poorest countries that will be hit the hardest. The longer the war continues, the higher the tragic and unnecessary death toll from starvation in Africa will rise.
Similarly, Putin is not waging war only against Ukraine or with Europe through restricting energy exports. This assaults the world’s poorest countries, 18 of whom import more than 50% of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. As a result of an illegal grain blockade in the port of Odessa (through which 98% of grain exports pass), some 20 million tonnes of wheat are unable to reach those in the global South who desperately need it.
Sub-Saharan Africa is already suffering greatly from climate change. Now through one man’s despotism, it faces grain and fertilizer shortage, and a spiraling financial crisis combining with rising temperatures to create a deadly triple-threat for millions.
The longer the world allows Russia’s assault on Ukraine to drag on, the more emboldened Putin will become. His invasion of Ukraine is just the latest in a grisly litany of Russian violence and coercion overseas. Fresh from their participation in the destruction of Syria, Russian mercenaries of the so-called Wagner group have swarmed across Africa, killing and maiming their way through Mali, CAR and Mozambique. This diplomacy at the point of a gun is how Putin and his band of thieves engage with the world.
More subtly, Russian covert operations and disinformation campaigns are exerting a sinister influence in sovereign countries the world over, gnawing at the roots of society and subverting their democratic destinies.
Putin’s fellow autocrats are observing Eastern Europe with acute interest. China has long-used Russia’s foreign policy as a barometer for the Western capacity for action. The Ukrainian invasion has certainly been noted by Xi Jinping as he casts his gaze towards Taiwan. Russian victory in Ukraine would announce the start of a new era where might is right and the wolves of the international order will fall ravening on their weaker neighbours.
You see, we Ukrainians are fighting not only for our lives and our country, but for the whole world. If the world lets us fall, it will not only spell the end of my country, but disaster for the human race. A delegation of fellow Ukrainians is visiting countries across Africa from next week, to implore them to stand with us for the sake of humanity. Our message is simple. No country is safe from Putin until Ukraine is.
Professor Yarolsav Hrytsak; Doctor of Historical Sciences and Professor of the Ukrainian Catholic University / Director of the Institute for Historical Studies of the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv; former Vice-President of the International Association of Ukrainians.
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