Fifty days ago, on Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of a military assault on neighbouring Ukraine. Russian artillery and airstrikes pummelled Ukrainian cities and the Kremlin’s troops swept across the border, triggering a mass exodus that has become Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.
The fallout from the attack also has repercussions far beyond Ukraine. It has forced nations to rethink neutrality and refugee policy, and threatens to destabilise the global economy. Here is how the world has changed in the past 50 days.
1. A warm welcome for Ukrainian refugees.
More than 4.6 million Ukrainians have left the country, with many fleeing into neighbouring states such as Poland and Romania. Not all of these governments had laid out the red carpet for refugees in the past, but to accommodate this influx, European leaders installed a new playbook, forging political consensus and streamlining the asylum-seeking process.
Farther away, even Japan has moved to accept dozens of displaced Ukrainians - a remarkable move by a country that historically has been unwelcoming to asylum seekers. As of early April, Tokyo has welcomed more than 400 people - with some flying on a government-chartered plane from Poland.
The warm welcome offered to Ukrainian refugees has raised eyebrows, with World Health Organisation Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently noting that countries such as Ethiopia and Yemen received “not a fraction” of the spotlight Ukraine has.
2. A rethinking of political nonalignment.
Several countries that joined the Western-led financial war against Russia were either traditionally politically neutral or had close economic ties with Russian oligarchs.
Shortly after the conflict began, Switzerland announced that it would join the European Union in imposing sanctions on Moscow, in a sharp departure with its long-standing neutrality. Monaco, a playground for Russia’s wealthy elites, also moved to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs in accordance with EU sanctions.
Similarly, Singapore made what it called an “almost unprecedented” move to impose sanctions on a country without a UN Security Council resolution.
The sanctions are biting. While Russia’s currency has recovered some ground after its post-invasion collapse, the World Bank forecasts that the Russian economy may contract 11.2 per cent this year.
3. The continued deglobalisation of the Russian economy.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russians took to Western brands from McDonald’s to Miu Miu. The international backlash to Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea began the decoupling of Russia’s society and economy from the Western world, but the Feb. 24 attack has accelerated the process.
Under pressure from their home governments and consumers, major companies and organisations have moved to suspend or exit operations in Putin’s country, depriving Russians of access to many consumer goods. International sporting events and prominent cultural institutions have also severed ties with Russian participants.
4. A boom in German defence spending.
Though it is Europe’s largest economy and an influential NATO member, Germany has long been careful about throwing its weight on the world stage. After the Cold War, Berlin also developed tight economic and energy ties with Moscow.
Putin’s aggression, however, has forced Germany to reverse course. In late February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that his government would vastly increase defence spending. He also greenlit arms deliveries to Ukraine - just weeks after his country was ridiculed for offering to send helmets to Kyiv.
Alongside long-term spending commitments, Germany’s military will see its coffers boosted by a one-off injection of $110 billion, about twice as much as its defense budget last year.
5. A threat to global livelihoods.
Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of corn and wheat. Russia, the world’s largest oil exporter, was also a top supplier of fertiliser. But the protracted conflict has driven up commodity prices globally, jeopardising food security and poverty alleviation efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
The World Food Programme has said that 41 million people in West and Central Africa may be affected by a food and nutrition crisis this year, as the region confronts the highest prices in a decade for products like grain, oil and fertilizer. The war has also set off panic buying of basic foodstuffs in countries such as Egypt, Syria and Lebanon that are reliant on Ukrainian and Russian imports.
On Tuesday, the World Trade Organization slashed this year’s growth forecast to 2.8% from 4.1% before the war, saying the conflict had inflicted “a severe blow” on the world economy. And the longer the war drags on, experts predict the damage will only grow.