A funeral is held in Moscow for a Russian sergeant killed in Ukraine. Photo: Screengrab / BBC / Getty

Senior Russian officials continued denying their intent to invade Ukraine until the moment the invasion began. The Russians misled and miscalculated, and Europe is now in the midst of its largest military conflict and refugee crisis since World War II.

Neither the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a defensive alliance whose purpose is to protect its member states, nor Ukraine posed an existential threat to Russia prior to the invasion. As the International Court of Justice recently noted, there is also no credible evidence to support Russian claims that Ukraine was committing genocide against Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian claim that their “special miliary operation” is “de-nazifying” Ukraine is likewise laughable. The country has a democratically elected Jewish president, after all.

The slow-moving Russian invasion is causing massive losses of life on both sides. Russia’s military losses just within a few weeks, both in terms of personnel and equipment, has already surpassed the toll the US took during its 20 years of invasion-cum-occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shocking images of indiscriminate Russian bombing of Ukrainian cities, including a maternity hospital, a theater housing children, and an elderly care facility have sent shockwaves across the world.

Soon after the invasion started, with an overwhelming 141-5 majority, the United Nations passed a resolution deploring the invasion and calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.

The list of nations that sided with Russia against the resolution reads like a select list of the most unfree, brutal, and repressive nations on Earth: Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria. These are nations ruled by authoritarian “strongmen,” with weak, stagnated economies. These strongmen govern by violence rather than cooperative deliberation, and are terrified by the ideals of freedom and democracy that Ukrainians are now defending.

Besides the five member states taking Russia’s side outright, there were 35 states that abstained. That list includes Tanzania, which itself suffered an invasion in 1978, by the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and South Africa, usually a beacon of democracy in Africa, whose very own late Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

It also includes Bangladesh, which in 1971 suffered a brutal assault by the Pakistan Army, resulting in the deaths of countless East Pakistanis, now known as Bangladeshis.

Pakistan, which never misses an opportunity to champion the plight of the people of Kashmir, enthusiastically chose the side of Russia, at the exact moment when the latter had just started its invasion of Ukraine and initiated a potentially brutal occupation.

Whatever was the realpolitik of the 35 abstaining member states, the majority of which are developing countries, their position on Ukraine is immoral and more than likely to hurt their own economic interests. 

Russia and Ukraine export about 30% of the world’s wheat and 20% of the world’s corn, and they produce about 80% of the world’s sunflower oil. Thanks to favorable climate and soil conditions, Ukraine and southwestern Russia are known as the “world’s food basket.” The seaports in Ukraine, some of which are now under constant Russian assault, constitute some of the world’s most important ports for agricultural exports.

As Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, with no clear signs of a truce yet, the United Nations has warned that a global famine may ensue. A recent blockade of the Black Sea by Moscow has already caused delays in crucial grain exports, exacerbating existing food crises in conflict-ridden countries such as Sudan, Yemen and Ethiopia.

Even relatively stable countries like Egypt, which is the world’s largest importer of wheat and sources almost all of its wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine, may face an acute food crisis if the war lasts too long. Such countries as Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan – all major importers of food grain from Russia and Ukraine – may face serious import hurdles as well.

Fast-rising inflation across the globe may make matters even worse, particularly given that food-exporting countries like Russia, Brazil and Ukraine may decide to hold on to their crops as “hard assets” as they try to blunt the impact of runaway inflation. High energy prices, on top of food price inflation, may push poor countries such as Sri Lanka toward default on their national debt.

Russia, currently under unprecedented international sanctions, may also impede food and energy exports as a retaliatory measure, as a genuine national-security measure, or both. Up to 300 ships have recently been stopped by Russian forces from departing the Black Sea, virtually blockading one of the main arteries of global food supply. The Russians blamed Ukrainian mines for the blockade.

The world’s largest shipping companies are avoiding Ukraine both our of fear of breaching Western-led sanctions and because of worsening security concerns as the Russian invasion has crippled Ukraine’s port operations. The costs of freight insurance for food exports from Ukraine and Russia, even when available, also have skyrocketed, further exacerbating price inflation.

Russia’s invasion has already displaced 10 million Ukrainians, both inside the country and as refugees abroad, depleting the international community’s scarce resources for food and shelter assistance. This may have profound implications for about a million Rohingya refugees currently under World Food Program assistance in Bangladesh, and several million Afghan and Syrian refugees.

The Russian invasion may end up being one of the most destructive events for the global order of the last 70 years. The morally and economically prudent thing to do for all countries of the world, including the 35 nations that abstained at the UN, is to persuade President Vladimir Putin to stop his reckless invasion.

The abstainers may soon realize that they dangerously placed themselves on the wrong side of history and acted against the common good of their own people.

Shafquat Rabbee

Shafquat Rabbee writes on global economy and geopolitics. He teaches at the College of Business, University of Dallas, Texas. He is an alumnus of Cornell University and the University of Miami. He can be found on Twitter @srabbee.

Rainer Ebert

Rainer Ebert holds a PhD in philosophy from Rice University in Texas and has taught at universities in the United States, South Africa, Tanzania and Canada. He can be reached at www.rainerebert.com, and you can find him on Twitter @daktari_rainer.