The Russia–Ukraine War and the Unfolding Global Disorder

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has culminated into a full-blown war, emerging in a deep humanitarian crisis, and effects can be felt far beyond the region. This reading list delves into the genesis of the conflict, and what is at stake for the world.

 

 

Historian Edward Mortimer once wrote, “A World War is like a furnace, it melts the world down and makes it malleable.” 

 

The unravelling of the world disorder has been time and again predicted by many foreign affairs experts. With the United States (US)–China trade war, decline of multilateralism, ineffectiveness of the World Trade Organization, United Nations (UN) and other multilateral institutions, often divergent approaches to climate change, refugee crisis, increase in polarisation of global politics and rise of fundamentalism, all contributed to the chasm in world politics. Then came the pandemic that led to severe disruptions, human suffering, ineffective handling of the World Health Organization, vaccine nationalism, further accentuating the complexities in global governance.

 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has topped it all. It has challenged the post-Cold War order, which was trying to build a multipolar order through dialogue, cooperation and politico-economic ties among nations. The Ukraine war has thrown the world into chaos, uncertainty and unpredictability. It has eroded the trade frameworks and distorted supply chains. This has also led to  levels of food and retail inflation. Additionally, the steep rise in oil prices have been affecting energy security worldwide. 

 

This reading list attempts to examine the evolving context of the Russia–Ukraine conflict,  its geopolitical spillovers, and its effects on the present world order.

 

Making of the War

The present crisis stretches itself as far back as 1917. In 1917, after the October Revolution, Ukraine declared itself a republic, and its independence was realised by the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in 1990, Ukraine declared itself an independent sovereign state, following which Crimea requested for its autonomous status.

But it was not a smooth transition. Jawahar Bhagwat, in his 2022 article "Ukraine: ​The Anatomy of a Crisis," details this complex history and its influence that resulted in the present geopolitical fractures:  

 

The Autonomous Republic of Crimea declared its independence on 4 September 1991 (Wydra 2003). On 5 May 1992, the Crimean Parliament issued its own Constitution and declaration of independence. This was not agreed to by Kiev initially, and after negotiations, the declaration of sovereignty was withdrawn after granting autonomous rights. In return, Crimea decided to postpone its proposed referendum. 

 

Subsequently, in September 1992, “the Crimean Parliament introduced a national flag that matched the colours of the Russian flag. It further passed a resolution that Ukrainian citizenship was not mandatory, and Russian would be the national language of Crimea (Wydra 2003). In the same year, the Russian State Duma quoted the records of Sevastopol’s special status dating back to 1948 and therefore came to the conclusion that Sevastopol could not be given to Ukraine.” (Bhagwat 2022) 

Thus it can be inferred that the secessionist tendencies in Crimea were present during the beginning of the break-up of the Soviet Union itself. The tussle in Crimea thereafter became a pivotal factor  in the domestic politics of Ukraine, with both Russia and the West’s constant interference in the region raising questions about Ukraine’s unity and sovereignty.

What was initially started as territorial claim for  including Donetsk and Lukhansk, quickly turned into Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine, which commenced on 24 February 2022, has sent the world into a tailspin during the course of the past seven months. While Russia’s actions under Vladimir Putin’s leadership are condemnable, NATO’s support of the war has also been met with mixed responses. As this editorial in 2014 had noted, “Geopolitical manoeuvres by world powers have further aggravated the Ukrainian crisis.”

In a similar vein, this EPW Editorial, 2022 argued, 

Notwithstanding the US’s hegemonic designs, there is no denying that Russia’s aggression is part of its ultranationalistic assertion of a 'Greater Russia' under Putin. Russia’s actions under Putin, have only re-energised the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), after the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

 

Many experts have time and again pointed towards the USs’ usage of conflicts to its favour  in collecting more power. As this article by James Petras (1999), "NATO: Saving Kosova by Destroying It," 1999 discusses,

A new sense of imperial arrogance encourages Washington to intervene militarily in Europe; to redefine national boundaries; to extend and deepen its military alliances across Europe; to challenge European trading patterns and regulations; and to impose its own interpretation of free trade according to its own interests.

These changes have prompted even neutral spectators such as Sweden and Finland to join NATO, a step which can only strengthen and unify the grouping. The focus has shifted from cooperation to militarisation.  Further, this pattern points towards the trend of  countries to increase their defence expenditure, even during the unprecedented economic slowdown, amidst fears of a global recession.

 

Global Institutional Failures

The UN was faltering in ensuring ceasefires, even during the Azerbaijan–Armenia conflict occurring right in the midst of a deadly pandemic. But the Ukraine–Russia conflict has once again highlighted the inability of UN forces to intervene and maintain peace.

The hierarchies that are embedded in the UN system, affect its ability to solve international problems. With the exclusivist nature of the veto power system, UN Security Council (UNSC), which is one of the most powerful organs of the UN, has also not been able to mediate such conflicts effectively. As this 2011 EPW editorial mentions, 

The structure of the UNSC, with a permanent set of five nations with veto power and another 10 elected members on a two-year tenure, has been widely accepted to be barely responsive towards or representative of large sections of the world populace.

 

As several south-south cooperation initiatives have also highlighted, the UN remains governed by a tinge of colonial, imperialist logic. As this editorial in 1995, "Bandung and After" contended, 

 

Bandung endorsed the principles of the UN Charter. But it was emphatic in its implication that the United Nations, dominated by the Big Powers, had failed to observe the letter as well as the spirit of the Charter. Respect for human rights is one of the basic principles of the Charter. Under the Charter, the people of every country have the right to choose the form of government they like. These Charter principles are aimed against racialism and colonialism in all their manifestations. Racialism and colonialism still persist.

 

On similar lines, Shweta Singh in "Between Empire(s), Great Powers, and Moral Calculus: Seeking India’s Global Normative Power," 2022  examines how the UN’s policies remain anchored to the so-called great power politics, and USs’ vision of Pax-Americana: 

 

The Western gaze, once again, puts complex geopolitical historie(s) on the margins—as well as any discussion on empire, imperial relations, hierarchies, hegemony and constitution of political subjectivities that does not align with the camouflaged moral calculus of the West furthering great power interest—in the name of liberal normative order.

 

Sanjay Kumar had warned of this in his discussion piece on "Imperialist Ignorance," 2005. This success of imperialist ignorance is a sign of the deep roots of imperialism and underscores the arduous and long drawn-out battle anti-imperialist agitators have to fight for the hearts and minds of citizens of imperial countries.” Similarly,  Petras (1999) has cited another example of such trends:

 

In eastern Europe and the Balkan states, the new regimes embrace US ‘free market’ doctrines and beg to serve under US/NATO command, even to the point of multiplying their military spending at a time of economic crises.

 

Sanctions and Global Supply Chains

Capital remains critical to global networks and interactions. The technological changes have also multiplied the exchanges across borders and unified a global marketplace. However, this has resulted in a system of complex interdependence, a term first used by political scientists Robert Keohane and Joseph S Nye. Just as this 2021 commentary,"India and the RCEP: Regional Value Chains in the Post-COVID-19 World," by Sanchita Chatterjee has explained, “COVID-19 has widely affected global supply and value chains, and specific sectors around the world.” 

The sanctions against Russia have only further exacerbated the fragmentations. As Anuradha M Chenoy (2022) points out in "Russia–Ukraine War and the Changing World Order,"

This asymmetric war, like many before, will have debilitating long-term effects on both Ukraine and Russia as the West places sanctions and isolates Russia. The world, especially the developing countries, face continuous oil price volatility, grain shortages, supply chain disruptions, and economic stag­fla­tion. This war has serious consequences internationally, marking a shift in the world order that we examine.

 

But, at the same time, the implementation of the sanctions is anything but equal,  as this 2022 article by Debangana Chatterjee, "Sanctions in Ukraine War: The Racial Tilting of International Politics" interprets:

 

While it is important to acknowledge the significance of the sanctions against Russia in sending strong messages against the violators of international law, the fault-line lies in two ways. First, it is anything but equitably implemented. Second, it has limited effectiveness, espe­cially when faced with a major power in the world. In other words, the position of the aggressor both in terms of its prowess and racial belonging would matter in implementing sanctions. While a combination of the Russian racial “othe­rness” and the Ukrainian racial ­familiarity invite more sanctions for Russia, the Russian political and econo­mic prowess push the Western sanctions to be more cautious and less effective. It further pushes us to think about the cautious interplay of the racial as well as power-positioning of the aggressor—Russia, in this case. It shows us the intersection where the racial otherisation of Russia is shadowed somewhat by the ­inevitability of Russia’s global power ­position, though retaining the racial tilting of international politics quite visibly.

Conclusions

The war also serves as a reminder that all the carefully built norms are vulnerable and incredibly fragile, and that deterrence and negotiations take a back seat when force remains a dominant denominator in influencing the course of  international relations.

While the rest of the world addresses Russia’s present incursions, it is also important to consider the structure of the present world system and question the relevance of alliances such as NATO. For, as this article points out that, 

 

NATO’s expansionism, seen as an aggressive act by Russia, threatens to derail the cooperation of Russia with the West and further push the country towards China, which is a threat to the US hegemony in the Asia Pacific or countries like Iraq, Syria, and North Korea, further destabilising global order. Whether it is the Russian invasion of Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, or the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk, the role of NATO in provoking action cannot be ignored. NATO has become a flashpoint in several conflicts in eastern Europe. It is time to recognise its non-relevance in the present global order and dismantle it to maintain peace and security in the world.

 

As T Sabri Oncu (2022) reiterates in his piece, "A War No One Can Win: Ukraine and the Weaponisation of Everything," the present war indicates a larger culture that promotes the “weaponisation of everything.” In conclusion, as Oncu (2022) underscores, “Unless the world ends the war in Ukraine today, we all are losing. Our goal must be to bring peace to Ukraine now. And the Western sanctions imposed on Russia do not appear effective in achieving this goal. There must be another way.”

The world is at a crucial juncture today, and the future will be determined by our  ability to construct a more inclusive global system.

 

Read More:

 

History versus Expectations in Contemporary Ukraine | Pulapre Balakrishnan, 1998

Presidential Elections in Ukraine: Conflicts and Challenges | R G Gidadhubli, 2005

Crimean Declaration of Independence : A Challenge for International Law? | Balraj K Sidhu and Bharat H Desai, 2014

Rethinking the Ukraine Crisis | Robert H Wade, 2015

Ukraine: A Flashpoint or Diversion? | Jawahar Bhagwat, 2022

Ukraine War and the Perils of ‘Self-determination’ | Atul Bharadwaj, 2022

Who Is Winning the Pyrrhic War? | Abhiroop Chowdhury and Armin Rosencranz, 2022

Russia Draws a Line in Europe | Zorawar Daulet Singh, 2022

 

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