The danger of a Russian invasion of Ukraine has heightened tensions in the area, threatening to plunge the country’s 44 million people even further into turmoil. However, a move by the Kremlin would have far-reaching consequences well beyond the two countries’ common border. Experts believe it would usher in a new period of instability in Eastern Europe, disrupt supply networks and the global economy, and compel a change in geopolitical dominance that will harm the West’s reputation.
These concerns may possibly be alleviated. Even as officials on both sides scurry to find a diplomatic solution to a standoff that the Biden administration fears is dangerously near to war, the Ukrainian government is downplaying the imminent threats of a full-scale invasion.
If an incursion occurs, it is unknown what form it would take — and forecasting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions is a famously risky endeavor. “Any contemporary warfare would be horrifying, but there are gradations to the horror,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus who is now a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Analysts believe that the efficiency of a NATO-led reaction is also critical in deciding how protracted and far-reaching the consequences of any invasion would be.
Any Russian intervention, however, would put Western nations’ commitment to the test and create a slew of economic and security difficulties. “Russia and the West have disagreed so fundamentally on worldview and that fundamental disagreement has been swept under the carpet for years,” said James Nixey, head of Chatham House’s Russia-Eurasia program. “Now Russia has decided it’s going to up the ante,” he continued. “It is a real-world problem that has global implications.” The loudness of the West’s rhetoric has risen in tandem with the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Beyond Ukraine, the most immediate effects would be seen in eastern European and Baltic states, who would be confronted with an openly belligerent Russia on their doorsteps. “Ukraine has boundaries with numerous NATO countries. There will be a lot of worry that this isn’t simply something occurring close that might have unintended consequences, but that their safety is in jeopardy “According to Gould-Davies.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, thus the organization is unlikely to send troops there. Following an incursion, however, a large army presence would certainly continue around Europe’s eastern border for as long as Russia retained Ukrainian territory, bringing back memories of a Cold War-era barrier between east and west.
“There is going to have to be a response all along that NATO front line that acts as a deterrent … and you have to have a whole war-fighting strategy around that,” said Neil Melvin, head of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
“This would change things enormously in Europe,” he continued, “because we’re so far from thinking in those terms.” Melvin projected that countries would need “large enough forces to fight for a long period, to bring in new forces from the US, [and] to fight cyber dimensions.” “It’s going to be a huge shift.”
The country is one of the world’s four major grain exporters, accounting for roughly a sixth of global corn imports in the next five years, according to projections by the International Grains Council, so a direct hit to its production and output could have an impact on the supply of certain foodstuffs. However, the larger possible impact on energy supplies, as well as the repercussions of severe Western sanctions on Russia, which would be expected following an incursion, are more worrying. Russia contributes roughly 30% of the natural gas used in the European Union, with supplies from the nation essential for power generation and home heating in Central and Eastern Europe.
Russia has already been accused of abusing that dependency; the International Energy Agency warned on Wednesday that by decreasing its exports, Russia has led to a gas shortage in Europe, and the country has also put supply pressure on Moldova in recent months. Energy cost inflation has already hit millions of homes in Europe — according to Bank of America, consumers in the United Kingdom will pay around £790 ($1,075) more this year to heat and light their homes — and conflict in eastern Europe could spark or exacerbate cost-of-living crises in several countries. Given its progressive rotation of gas and coal supplies to China in recent years, Europe is concerned that Russia would be ready to manage a break with the European market.