The United States has been the most hawkish of allies. President Joe Biden recently provided Ukraine with $80 billion worth of military aid. But then, on Monday, the American administration said it would not send Ukraine missiles that could reach the Russian border or over it and hit enemy missiles.
Russia had warned that sending them would be to cross a red line.
The Russian missiles have devastated cities defended by the Ukrainian army at the edge of the contested Donbas region. The Ukrainians possess no other weapons that can reach them.
Was this some sort of peace gesture to Putin? The US is facing possibly dovish headwinds due to economic issues. Rising fuel prices partly due to the war are contributing to inflation and government climate-change oil and natural gas production curbs are slowing down new production. Plus, shortages of fertilizer – which are produced in Russia and Ukraine – are threatening wheat and corn plantings.
Last week, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Russia’s President Vladimir Put and suggested Europe could ease economic sanctions on Moscow over its Ukraine invasion if Putin let wheat supplies flow from blocked Ukraine ports.
Two days later, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged allies to provide Ukraine with more military equipment, including long range advanced weaponry. Verbally blasting Putin, Johnson told Bloomberg Television, “How can you deal with a crocodile when it’s in the middle of eating your left leg?”
Then, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz phoned Putin to demand Russian troops stop the war, leave Ukraine, let wheat flow out and open peace talks with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. Macron and Scholz didn’t mention lifting sanctions.
Leaders in Europe and the United States have often extolled Western unity in the face of the invasion, while also supporting Ukraine with arms supplies and diplomacy. But divisions had appeared even before the recent confusing array of statements.
Is this a war no one can win? The conflict is not only brutal, with thousands of military deaths as well as wanton killings of Ukrainian civilians. It is also negatively impacting economies worldwide. The war may cause hunger in poor countries and recession in rich ones.
The question for the West is whether to keep aiding Ukraine no matter what or to find a way for everyone to cut losses and stop fighting.
In a way, the wheat issue is a stand-in for a host of concerns, Beyond the weekend’s mixed messages from Rome, Paris, Bonn and London, a variety of divisions had emerged elsewhere.
Fearing economic pain, some European companies have found tricky ways to make natural gas purchases in rubles, as demanded by Russia. They include firms in Germany Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary and France.
Turkey, the sole authoritarian member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, says it wants to veto the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO. The two countries have supported exiled Kurdish activists whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan considers terrorists.
Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban doesn’t want sanctions on Russia at all.
In any event, Zelensky has sensed wobbling. He is unimpressed by European Union dilemmas and wants the EU to keep its eye on defeating Russia. Send more weapons, he said. “We must unblock the ports together,” he added, as an answer to the wheat problem.
It’s difficult to gauge how much comfort Putin takes in these signs of European distress and disunion. Russia has its own problems. Russian inflation runs at about 18% and consumer spending is expected to drop 13% for this year and 22% in 2023, according to US investment bank Morgan Stanley.
The situation may be worse than the numbers suggest: Russian firms are currently not required to report earnings, leaving investors in the dark.
Nonetheless, Putin appears unfazed. After his talk with Macron and Scholz, the Kremlin released a statement about not sanctions but arms deliveries to Ukraine, which the statement blamed for “further destabilization of the situation.”
What’s evident is that, however much damage the war is doing to Russian and Western economies, those figures pale by comparison with the damage inflicted on Ukraine in terms of economic dislocation and physical damage.
The country’s economy will shrink by 45% according to the World Bank. Prolonged resistance would represent a Pyrrhic moral victory. Damage to structures, public works and other infrastructure already could top $600 billion, according to the Kyiv School of Economics.
Even if Ukraine actually succeeds in driving Russia out of its territory, damage to the world economy could be devastating within a year, according to an analysis by Market Watch.
There is already fear of food shortages in countries that import wheat from Ukraine. Europe faces an economic slowdown as energy supplies become unpredictable.
In short, as the war drags on, the global economic outlook appears grim. “In all cases, the economic damage will be profound not just for Ukraine, but also for the rest of the world,” said Market Watch, which is a publication of Dow Jones & Company.
“Instead of waiting for an outcome to the war, policymakers must urgently explore solutions to the global food crisis, the growing potential for debt crises in the developing world, and the threat of recession in the West.”