Ukraine Russia tension
An escalation of Ukraine-Russia conflict may have global consequences Image Credit: Gulf News

There’s no question about how grim the news seemed as last week came to a close, signalling as it did the prospect of imminent war in the Ukraine.

On Friday, standing before reporters in the briefing room, White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan declared that there was a “very distinct possibility” that Russia would invade Ukraine in a “reasonably swift time frame”.

The following day, in an hour long phone call, President Biden reportedly told his Russian counterpart of “swift and decisive costs” if Russia, which already has 130,000 troops on the Russia-Ukraine border, were to finally invade.

If the crisis over this Eastern European nation does indeed morph into war, it would be the largest military offensive on the continent since the Second World War.

Oh, dear me, Europeans are at each others’ throats again! That, at first blush, may have been the reaction of those of us who live in countries on the periphery, including ours in the Middle East and Africa (MENA), far away from the borders of a nation over whose fate Russia and the Western Alliance have chosen to lock horns.

Move outwardly in concentric circles

So, who cares? Well, we all do. And, given the fact that we today inhabit a global village, with a globalised economy, where conflict in one region will, in a systemic way, move outwardly in concentric circles of association and in time affect other regions elsewhere in that village, we indeed must. We must because, in this case, our national interests, both economic and political, are at stake, and willy-nilly so.

An invasion of Ukraine will clearly reshape Europe’s geopolitical map, but make no mistake about it, the ripple effects of that military incursion will impact the lives and livelihoods of countless peoples living elsewhere.

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Now look at it this way. Russia, which supplies one of every 10 barrels of oil that the world consumes, is Europe’s primary source of gas, accounting for as much as 40 per cent of the European Union’s energy market. In the event of war, which will inevitably result in the disruption of these supplies, the continent will turn to the Arab world’s oil-producing countries to make up the slack. This may prompt an increase in oil prices.

A few countries in North Africa, which include Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and to a lesser extent Morocco, along with Lebanon and Yemen in the Middle East, are major importers of Ukranian wheat.

Astonishingly, Ukraine exports 95 per cent of its wheat harvest, and as much as 50 per cent of that is exported to MENA countries. For example, 50 per cent of Lebanon’s and 43 per cent of Libya’s wheat imports come from that state.

Should these exports be derailed on account of war, it would result in a spike in food prices thus deepening the stress of food insecurity there. Now combine that with a spike in fuel prices and you have a double whammy.

Consider Egypt as a case in point. This most populous Arab nation is actually the world’s largest wheat importer and it relies heavily on imports from Ukraine, which also happens to be its main corn supplier as well. Now imagine the impact this would have on most Egyptians if these imports were disrupted.

The Egyptian government’s remedy here would be to seek supplies elsewhere, resulting — no surprise here — in a hike in prices. An increase in the cost of staple diet is never a good prescription.

Unintended consequences of the war

This conflict between Russia and the Western Alliance is a drama whose unintended consequences we all dread, whose eventual denouement we can but only guess at and whose protagonists we can see are playing a dangerous game beyond the ability, I say, of those of us on the periphery to impede or block from going forward.

The long and short of it is that Russia, pragmatically, wants to recognise no hegemony in its sphere of influence other its own, whereas the West, theoretically, envisions a strategic map for the future of Europe that appears to poach on that sphere.

Ukraine may be a mere one of 15 former republics that once made up the United Socialist Soviet Republic (USSR), but to the Russian Federation today, it is strategically important.

And we will dread this war, should it break out, because, to paraphrase Metternich, when big powers sneeze, we all catch cold, wherever we are, and however far from the theatre of conflict we are located, in this global village we all inhabit.

That we all live in a global village at this time in our evolutionary continuum as social beings, has turned out to be both the pride and burden of the modern age.

But, you know, if you want to know the truth, entre nous, it’s more darn burden than pride.

— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, academic and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile