Observatory on European Studies - The Russia-Ukraine War one year after

2023-02-27

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Manuel Becerra-RamĂ­rez*

A year after it started, there is still no way out of Russia's undeclared war against Ukraine. Furthermore, the conflict escalates dangerously day by day and has already reached a higher level of complexity. We even find certain similarities with the state of affairs in the 20th century, precisely in the pre-war years.

More and more European states are involved in this conflict that shows the formation of a multipolar system; under which emerging powers like China, India, Brazil and, of course, Russia, threaten the hegemony of the United States of America. Given this rearrangement of factic powers, it is necessary that international actors favor dialogue and the peaceful solution of the conflict. 

The government of Volodymir Zelenky keeps reinforcing its military power now with the generous gifts of its allies: US Abrams, German Leopard and British Challenger tanks, as well as combat aircrafts which’ve been already requested. France is also contributing Leclerc tanks and Canada will provide four Leopards, expected to add 125 tanks to Zelenky's arsenal, not to mention the Patriot missiles the United States will donate to the cause.

Although the territory of Ukraine continues to be the scene of the conflict, in reality the war is already de facto between Russia and NATO. It is therefore a non-frontal war, where mostly Russia and Ukraine suffer human losses.

On the other hand, a more aggressive response from Putin is expected. As is clear to all, Ukraine is facing a nuclear power that will hardly be defeated. Moreover, Russia's future status as hegemonic world power can be perceived as at risk. Or is it thought that Russia would declare itself defeated in a border conflict? (That is, where the spatial extent of its sovereign influence it's at stake) Or that Russia will negotiate, undermining its border security narrative? Let's say it in other terms: Is the Kremlin willing to negotiate as soon, leaving a hostile government on its borders and forgetting about the Donbas and Crimea? I'm afraid this is not the case.

So what is sought by escalating conflict? According to some observers, it is to achieve a better point of departure for negotiating further, hoping that Ukraine will advance to a les defensive, more hostile position. But there’s too much uncertainty and Russia could eventually put the most sophisticated and lethal military arsenal on the scene of the war (the use of a nuclear weapon would be devastating for world peace and the same ideal of international order, but it cannot be ruled out since the United States already did it with Japan).

The Russian economy doesn’t fall

Despite the impressive economic sanctions against the Russian economy, it has not declined. Indeed, the IMF has mentioned that Russia will have a 0.3% growth in the year 2023. The Russian economy then is stronger than expected and has managed to reorient itself. In addition, its main source of income is oil and weapons; China recently bought them fighter planes. The war industry is at its best precisely as this year just started.

The business of war

Indeed, this one-year war already leaves winners. One of them is the war industry, which, after the pandemic, could revitalize the economy of the States where arms-producing industries are based. For example, the United States announced that they dropped 31 M1 Abrams-type tanks into Ukraine. The price of each, depending on whether it includes training and maintenance, ranges from $8.5 million to more than $10 million. Who makes such tanks? It is the company “Chrysler Defense-General Dynamics Land Systems”. An American company that sells war material to the whole world and also uses an engine manufactured by “Honeywell”, which is another American company based in Alabama.

Instead, German tanks are cheaper. The Leopard 2 tanks are built by the company “Krauss-Maffei Wegmann-Rheinmetall” and the cost of each unit is US$5.74 million. The German decision to send tanks opened the door for other European states, including Spain, Poland, Denmark and Finland, to also generously send some tanks to Ukraine.

We know little about the economic impact of the war technology market, but we assume that it is important in global terms. Although we intrinsically know it's immoral, it's tragedy and death business. Because every war has a component of tragedy and suffering, especially wars driven by economic and politic interests that benefit only a few.

Refugee movement

Ukraine has a multinational, ethnically-based population. From a pre-war population of approximately more than 43 million inhabitants, of diverse ethnic and cultural origin: 57.8% Ukrainians, 17.2% Russian population of origin and 22% transients and minorities (Romanians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Tatars, Poles, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Gypsies and Jews). However, the war has produced a migratory movement of which only 4 million are in Europe, which causes social pressure on the States that receive them.

After the collapse of the collective security system, what's next?

The collective security system created after World War II, centralized in Chapter VII of the San Francisco Charter, has collapsed. Precisely, the participation of a permanent member of the Security Council, which is also an atomic power, in an armed conflict, such as Russia, renders any dispute resolution system within the UN inoperative. Even more, there’s no remarkable movement either from the international order or from the so-called civil society effectively promoting peace. Unfortunately, it is not the first time that crises of this magnitude have occurred, as an example we have the missile crisis in October 1962, where diplomacy settled the differences between the United States and the USSR. Today diplomats and politicians do not talk about peace, and the international press itslef reports mainly on such topics as the characteristics of the tanks or planes that Europe or the United States can give Ukraine. The origins and effects of the war are rarely discussed. Precisely in an interview with the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, on the occasion of his interview with German Chancellor Scholz, he mentioned: "we are in the 21st century and we are in a war we don’t know why happened"

Civil society itself is submerged in a morass and movements in favor of peace are not evident, to pressure politicians and diplomats to seek paths to peace, as happened with the Vietnam War or the deployment of missiles in Europe in the 80s. As if the deaths, the migrants and the global unrest in the economy did not matter.

Peace negotiations

It is significant that there have already been peace proposals from Latin America. One of them was made by the government of Mexican President LĂłpez Obrador in September 2022 within the Security Council, which was rejected without much discussion; there was an information vacuum regarding its full content and it was forgotten soon. Just now, President Lula da Silva, in a press conference, launched the idea of creating ""a club of people who want to achieve peace on the planet", a group of such strength and solidity that would be respected at the negotiating table. He himself proposed to speak personally with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Now, the fact that an escalation of the war is not recommended does not mean that the illegality of Russia's war is not recognized; the quid of the matter is how to resolve a conflict without clear perspectives and avoiding to trigger a larger conflict. It is still time to react with peace proposals before Belarus enters the War, or a missile falls in Poland and NATO has to respond outright, qualifying it as casus belli.

Undoubtedly, a global mobilization of civil society in favor of peace is necessary, one able to push governments towards peace. Negotiation proposals can emerge from this mobilization for peace. I would not rule out the necessity of reviewing the Minsk Agreements again or even of reforming the international security system of the San Francisco Charter, which is now out of date.

* Manuel Becerra-RamĂ­rez

Investigador del Instituto de Investigaciones JurĂ­dicas de la Universidad Nacional AutĂłnoma de MĂ©xico (UNAM).