On February 24th, 2022 Vladimir Putin’s Russia commenced a full-scale military invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine, a shocking, that feels just as anachronistic now as it did some 4 months ago. It is important to clarify at the outset of this discussion that this article aims to examine some of the broader and wider-reaching consequences of the conflict beyond the borders of Ukraine itself. Though events there must naturally sit at the forefront of most people's minds, obtaining accurate up-to-date information from Ukraine remains an extremely difficult task in light of the ongoing hostilities. A fully accurate analysis of the direct impact of the Russian Federation's invasion there will take more time to gauge and assess.
In attempting to analyse the brutal and wide-ranging consequences of the Russian Federation's ongoing assault, the first and primary area of the examination must of course be the human one. Casualty reports to date have proven highly variable. The United Nation’s most recent briefing - as of midnight April 2nd, 2022 reports an estimated 1,417 civilian deaths and a further 2,038 injuries since the conflict began. These numbers are presented with the caveat of the UN’s belief that the actual wartime casualty numbers are likely to be significantly greater, a fact attributed to the difficulty of obtaining the latest accurate information from areas in which hostilities remain active and ongoing (United Nations, 2022).
Military casualties remain another matter entirely and have been a subject of heated dispute on both sides. While Ukraine’s government claims a total of 19,600 Russian military personnel have been killed, Russia heavily disputes this figure, declaring a total of 1,351 dead as of their most recent official update on March 25th (AFP, 2022). NATO meanwhile has offered a wide estimate of between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian military deaths (Crawford, 2022), while Ukraine for its part has declared that it will not be detailing any official casualty figures until the conflict has reached its end (“Ukraine not to reveal,” 2022). While casualties represent the ultimate destructive potential of military conflict, the costs of Putin’s war are much further reaching than deaths and injuries alone. Since the commencement of fighting an estimated 5.5 million people have fled Ukraine, with another 6.5 million believed to have been displaced within the country itself (“How many Ukrainians,” 2022). With no sign of an end to the conflict in sight, each of these numbers appears likely to continue to rise over the coming weeks, months, and some fear even years.
The Economic Consequences
The devastating impact on the lives of the people of Ukraine remains of course the most vital consideration in evaluating the fallout from Russia’s “Special Military Operation”, the consequences however most certainly do not end there. The Russian economy itself has been dealing with a series of hefty blows through the extraordinary economic sanctions placed against it by the International Community. The overall impact however does not at present appear to have been as severe as may have originally been envisaged. A product of the short-term difficulties of reducing the world’s collective dependence on Russian exports – primarily energy in the form of oil and gas, and the Russian Government’s own response to the economic sanctions placed upon it ("Under unprecedented sanctions,” 2022).
While a general rise in the cost of everyday goods such as sugar and cereals has been observed throughout the Russian economy, these price rises are not outside the ordinary parameters of a global economy currently experiencing record levels of inflation. Further, many of these price increases pre-date Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and have not as yet risen significantly in the time since (Shamina, Kaner & Fraser 2022). The more obvious impact has been in the reduced presence of foreign brands operating in Russia, with many high profile Western companies such as McDonald's, H&M and Starbucks electing to cease operations there in the aftermath of Russia’s military action. These companies serve as just a thin slice of the total number of multinationals that have elected to discontinue business relations with Russia, with a huge number of companies across industries as wide-reaching and diverse as Consumer Goods & Retail, Finance, Tech and Manufacturing having followed suit (The New York Times, 2022).
Beyond the obvious first-party involvement of Russia and Ukraine, European economies stand the most at risk with regard to the economic fallout from the ongoing conflict. Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas stands foremost in this list of concerns. While the EU has taken measures to alleviate the bloc’s reliance on Russian energy imports, the weaning off of Russian energy is anticipated to take until as late as 2030 and will come with significant short-term consequences (Prince, 2022).
These consequences have already been realised for everyday European citizens in the form of rising fuel costs, with many service stations around Europe now selling at a price in excess of €2 per litre of unleaded fuel, an everyday commodity cost which would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. Europe’s highest fuel prices are currently being recorded in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, where the €2+ per litre price point has already become an established norm. Poland meanwhile is currently offering the lowest EU member state price for unleaded fuel at €1.42 per litre (Demony and Wagner, 2022). Poland along with Bulgaria have other pressing concerns however in the aftermath of Russia’s decision to immediately suspend all natural gas exports to both EU nations. This decision comes about as a result of both nations’ refusal to meet Russia’s payment demands in its native currency – the Rouble. With Bulgaria, in particular, relying almost entirely on Russian gas, the impact on ordinary Bulgarians has the potential to be devastating and swift. Bulgarian energy minister Alexander Nikolov’s declaration that the country can meet its users' gas needs for at least one month is hardly reassuring (Whiteside, 2022).
Our Daily Bread
Russia and Ukraine both serve as two of the world’s largest producers of wheat, an essential global staple food, with both nations combined accounting for some 30% of global wheat exports. Naturally, much of this production and its resultant distribution has been disrupted by the ongoing hostilities between both nations (Ellyatt, 2022). A reduction in the overall quantity supplied of any commodity leads to an increase in price. This principle has already been realised with regard to European wheat production, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization noting a 38% month-on-month increase in price for French Grade 1 wheat for the month of April 2022 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2022). Inevitably given the highly inter-dependent nature of the modern global economy, price increases have not been limited to the European market. Global wheat prices rose by 19.7% for the month of March 2022, alongside similar rises in the price of other widely consumed cereals such as maize, barley and sorghum (Ahmed, 2022).
The impact of the continued Russia – Ukraine conflict will of course not be limited solely to energy and grain markets, or to the confines of the European continent. The World Bank has already downgraded growth expectations for the global economy in 2022 from 4.1% to 3.2%, citing directly the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as being responsible for said revision (Lawder and Shalal, 2022). The effect on Ukraine itself is projected to be much more acute with the IMF and the aforementioned World Bank projecting a contraction of the Ukrainian economy of 35% and 45.1% respectively (Amaro, 2022), (Wilkie, 2022). In light of the essential nature of the chief commodities produced by both nations, the IMF has voiced further concerns that a rise in such costs may lead to a significant risk of social unrest developing across poorer nations as a whole (Gourinchas, 2022).
The Cost Ongoing
Economic variables such as growth forecasts, interest rates and yield projections can often feel quite abstract and unrelatable to your average global citizen. The human and economic fall-out from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stands in stark contrast to this notion and remains both very real, and very tangible in our collective everyday lives. Ukrainian citizens must contend with the existential threat of a hostile military invasion, ongoing fears over their safety, and for many, the challenges of suddenly adapting to an entirely new home, culture and way of life. While they strive to do so, the everyday costs of Putin’s war continue to rage far beyond the borders of their homeland.
Russian citizens are left to contend with the realities of their nation’s newly increased isolation. Europe, alongside the rest of the world, continues to fret over the difficulties posed by a continued rise in vital food and energy prices. Beyond the devastating impact of the conflict on Ukraine itself, the consequences for developing nations have the potential to be the most dire and immediate. Far from remaining abstract, a shortage of heating, electricity and essential daily foods could hardly be more real. As the war in Ukraine continues with no immediate end in sight, citizens all over the world must surely hope for its end, for reasons both humane and practical.
Ahmed, K. (2022). Global food prices rise to highest ever levels after Russian invasion. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/apr/08/global-food-prices-rise-to-highest-ever-levels-after-russian-invasion-ukraine-wheat#:~:text=World%20wheat%20prices%20soared%20by%2019.7%25%20during%20March%2C%20while%20maize,wheat%20market%20in%20the%20future.
Amaro, S. (2022). IMF cuts global growth forecasts on Russia-Ukraine war, says risks to economy have risen sharply. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/19/imf-cuts-global-growth-forecasts-on-russia-ukraine-war.html
Crawford, N. C. (2022). Reliable death tolls from the Ukraine war are hard to come by – the result of undercounts and manipulation. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/reliable-death-tolls-from-the-ukraine-war-are-hard-to-come-by-the-result-of-undercounts-and-manipulation-179905#:~:text=Ukraine%20officials%20suggest%20the%20true,suffering%20wounds%20in%20the%20fighting.
Demony, C. & Wagner, R. (2022). War-fuelled inflation adds to Europe's cost of living crisis. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/war-fuelled-inflation-adds-europes-cost-living-crisis-2022-03-08/
Ellyatt, H., (2022) From soaring food prices to social unrest, the fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war could be immense. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/21/from-food-to-inflation-the-russia-ukraine-war-has-a-global-impact.html
The European Commission. (2022). EU-U.S. Joint Statement: Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports from the U.S. continue to rise, up by 181%. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/es/IP_19_1531
Gourinchas, P. O. (2022). War Dims Global Economic Outlook as Inflation Accelerates. IMF Blog. https://blogs.imf.org/2022/04/19/war-dims-global-economic-outlook-as-inflation-accelerates/
How many Ukrainians have fled their homes and where have they gone?, (2022). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-60555472
Lawder, D. & Shalal, A. (2022). World Bank says war to cut global growth, boosts financing target. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/business/world-bank-says-war-cut-global-growth-boosts-financing-target-2022-04-18/
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Monthly Report on Food Price Trends, Food Price Monitoring and Analysis (FPMA) Bulletin #3, 12 April 2022. https://www.fao.org/3/cb9556en/cb9556en.pdf
Office of The High Commissioner For Human Rights,, (2022). Ukraine: civilian casualty update 3 April 2022. United Nations. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/news/2022/04/ukraine-civilian-casualty-update-3-april-2022#:~:text=Related&text=From%204%20a.m.%20on%2024,1%2C417%20killed%20and%202%2C038%20injured.
Prince, T. (2022). Clash Of Titans: As EU Moves To End Reliance On Russian Gas, Will Putin Seek To Strike First? Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved from https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-gas-imports-european-union-putin-clash/31830394.html#:~:text=The%20European%20Commission%20said%20in,deliveries%20%E2%80%9Cwell%20before%202030.%E2%80%9D
Shamina, O., Kaner, J. & Fraser, S. (2022). Russia sanctions: How the measures have changed daily life. BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60647543
The New York Times (2022). Here Are Some of the Companies That Have Pledged to Stop Business in Russia. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/article/russia-invasion-companies.html
Ukraine not to reveal own military death toll until war ends, (2022). Ukrinform. https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-ato/3443116-ukraine-not-to-reveal-own-military-death-toll-until-war-ends.html
Under unprecedented sanctions, how is the Russian economy faring? (2022). The Economist. https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2022/04/02/under-unprecedented-sanctions-how-is-the-russian-economy-faring
Whiteside, P. (2022). Ukraine war: What impact will Russia's decision to cut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria have on Europe? Sky News. Retrieved from https://news.sky.com/story/ukraine-war-what-impact-will-russias-decision-to-cut-off-gas-to-poland-and-bulgaria-have-on-europe-12600049
Wilkie, C. (2022). World Bank slashes global growth forecast to 3.2% from 4.1%, citing Ukraine war. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/18/world-bank-slashes-global-growth-forecast-to-3point2percent-from-4point1percent-citing-ukraine-war-.html
Figure 1: Morenatti, E.& AP Photo, (2022). Moskau kündigte tägliche Fluchtkorridore nach Russland an. [Photograph]. VIENNA.AT. https://www.vienna.at/taegliche-fluchtkorridore-nach-russland-angekuendigt/7324744
Figure 2: Tanneau, F., AFP., (2022). Price increase. [Photograph]. EPC. https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/Europe-must-prepare-for-a-wartime-economy~475b94
Figure 3: Marcelino, U., Reuters, (2022). FARMING. Oleksiy, a Ukrainian farmer, wearing body armor, works at the topsoil in a field, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, April 26, 2022. [Photograph]. Rappler. https://www.rappler.com/business/yara-keeps-supplying-fertilizer-ukraine-farmers/
Figure 4: O’Neil, T. & SOPA Images. (2022). Crowds of refugees from Mariupol, Ukraine, make their way out of the Lviv train station on March 24. [Photograph]. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/25/after-a-month-of-war-ukrainian-refugee-crisis-ranks-among-the-worlds-worst-in-recent-history/