As anti-Russian protests swarm the world, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues to escalate with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orders to move in on the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv last week in an attempt to capture Ukraine.
What is happening right now?
According to AP news, the United Nations general assembly convened for its first emergency session since 1997 voting 141-5 that Russia is demanded to stop its offensive and immediately withdraw all troops. Among the few countries that supported Russia were Belarus, Cuba, North Korea and Syria.
In the last week, about 870,000 people have fled Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion but that toll is soon expected to reach one million, according to AP, potentially becoming Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century. The shelling and bombing of regions in Ukraine have damaged pipes and electricity lines leaving hundreds of thousands of families without drinking water or basic supplies.
“Putin’s latest attack on Ukraine was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected repeated efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and North Atlantic Treaty Organization wouldn’t respond. And he thought he could divide us at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready,” President Joe Biden said in the State of the Union address on March 1.
Though there is no plan to engage with the Ukraine conflict, the U.S. alongside other NATO countries have placed sanctions against Russia as they wait to see if Putin will continue to push West.
The U.S. has taken actions to isolate Putin and the Russian government from the global economy and resources by interfering with Russia’s central bank, closing off American airspace from Russian flights, devaluing the Russian currency and limiting Russia’s access to technology, according to the State of the Union address.
“Things are changing by the day. New sanctions are coming, every couple hours something new happens you know? This war could go on for a while or it could be over in a day or two,” Michael Noel, professor of economics, said. “How much this affects the U.S. economy really depends on two things; how long this war goes on, and how deep the United States wants to apply sanctions to Russia that not only hurt Russia, but also hurt the United States.”
How did we get to this point?
During a panel hosted by Ph.D. student Kyle Rabel, panelists Alan Barenberg, Frank Thames, Eric Hammersen, Anthony Qualin, Erin Collopy discussed the history and context of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Collopy, associate professor of Russian language literature and culture, said one key contributing factor that led to tensions rising between the two countries is Putin’s influence over mainstream media and lack of freedom of the press.
"This disinformation has been going on for a long time, and people who have access to other forms of media can see,” Collopy said.
This disinformation, or historical distortions and cynical lies as Barenberg, refers to it, are the foundation of Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine, professor of history Barenberg, said. Putin has claimed several ideas which Barenberg disagreed with; the idea that Ukraine has no claim to sovereignty and the justification of invasion for the purpose of the denazification of Ukraine.
Though the Russian government has a large influence over its citizens, Barenberg said it’s important for people to remember that this conflict is not as simple as Russia against Ukraine. Several cities being targeted by the Russian military are primarily Russian speaking populations.
“There are many, many families that straddle both sides of the border. Russians who have relatives in Ukraine who are under threat. So it's a situation that's creating a terrible amount of grief and worry and hurt for so many people,” Barenberg said. “It's also really important to recognize that many people in Russia oppose the war. Thousands of people have been arrested for protesting against the war, and this is in the context of a state where anyone who goes out to demonstrate, even standing on the street with a sign will be arrested and may very well be tortured in prison, so there are huge risks also for Russians in opposing the war.”
Thames, a professor of political science, said another false justification for this conflict is that NATO had promised at the end of the Soviet Union that NATO would not expand, something that has been of concern for the Russian government since 1990.
Aside from economic attacks, NATO countries have said they will not be putting troops on the ground.
How will this most likely impact the upcoming months?
The United States does not have many economic ties with Ukraine, so the effects of this war on the U.S. will come from the impacts on Russia’s economy, Noel said.
“The first main effect from this is going to be that oil prices go up, and they have. Oil prices have shot up $30 in the last few months, as the lead up to this event was well known,” he said. “ So right now our gasoline prices have shot up, and they are poised to go up another 60 or 70 cents just based on the increases in crude oil prices that we've seen already.”
It takes time to see the impacts of war on inflation, but Noel said people can expect to see these impacts in the next month or so. Another unexpected result of this conflict will be inflation on fertilizer because Russia is a large producer of ammonia.
What differentiates this war from others that the U.S. has been involved in, for example the Iraq war, is that in this situation Russia is not the one being bombed so its actual exports are not being effected but rather the production and distribution aspect, Noel said.
“There's a lot of sanctions like that (which) are designed to be inconvenient, and inconvenient meaning, quite frankly, making it more difficult for the Russian people, which would hopefully change public support for the war in Russia,” Noel said.
Some additional changes people may notice are the boycotting of Russian products, though these decisions are not occurring at a federal level, in some parts of the United States it may be more difficult to find Russian vodka. Similarly, Russians will have a harder time accessing American products and media.
Noel says actions like pulling products off the shelves or not showing American movies in Moscow theaters are more so symbolic actions rather than real effective sanctions.
“It's very symbolic, and it doesn't really do anything. Most Russian vodkas are actually made in the United States so that they're in some sense applying a sanction to the wrong group of people. You may be closing down a factory in Tennessee instead,” Noel said. “The financial restrictions are a little more difficult because they make it more difficult for the Russian Government and the Russian army to fund itself. So those are more significant.”
During the panel, the panelists discussed some possible but less likely scenarios which many Americans are wondering like the implication this war would have on the world order and the possibilities of a larger scale world war.
One of the things people are watching out for is whether or not China will see this as an opportunity to invade Taiwan. Adjunct professor and former Army officer said if Putin is able to conquer a neighboring state that it does open that door for China, however, it is unlikely that China would invade.
Hammerson said, “I don’t think the west is going to stand by and let this continue as it is. They’re going to put some serious sanctions in place short of sending military troops across the border… they’ll do everything that they can to try and roll back this occupation.”
Thames said it is difficult to predict the outcome of this war because it is hard to see an endgame solution that makes sense for Putin aside from the total collapse of Ukraine and them agreeing to a peace treaty. It is doubtful Russia will be able to take over the entire country or sustain its occupation of the peripheral areas of Ukraine but this is uncharted territory.
With regards to whether the conflict could escalate towards mainland America, the panelists agreed that this is an unlikely outcome as it would be much more difficult and not in their best interest to engage in combat with the U.S.
“I guess the question is, what do you mean by World War? Is this a conflict that's going to change the world that's going to fundamentally alter much of the way the world works and alliances? I think, absolutely. Yes. We're already seeing that happen,” Barenberg said. “Is this going to be a nuclear conflict? I think it's unlikely but certainly not impossible. I mean, we hope that doesn't happen, obviously. But it's very hard to anticipate the course of events.”