The Ukraine crisis has entered its second month. In terms of security, economy, refugees, etc., Europe will pay a heavy price in the crisis.
Since the end of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has pushed for five rounds of eastward expansion up to Russia’s borders. As Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, if the US and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, it would take those missiles only minutes to reach Moscow.
It is like shoving the muzzle of cannons to Russia’s doorstep, which is certainly unacceptable to a big power like Russia. However, after instigating Europe and provoking Russia, the United States stood aloof from the conflict and left Europe to clean up the mess. But don’t forget that the distance between Washington and Moscow is 7,800 km, while Berlin is only 1,600 km away from Moscow. The security framework of Europe has broken into pieces. It may take years to restore the security order in Europe.
The European Union (EU) is the largest foreign investor in Russia with total direct investment of 311.4 billion euros (about $341.1 billion) in 2019. In 2021, the total trade in goods between the EU and Russia amounted to 257.5 billion euros (about $281.9 billion). But the close economic ties were cut off by the continuous and all-encompassing sanctions.
Figures say everything. The European Commission expects the EU’s economic growth rate in 2022 to be lower than 4 per cent as predicted earlier before the conflict. Some even forecast that the final growth rate will be less than 3 per cent.
According to data from London’s ICE exchange, the price of natural gas in Europe climbed to nearly 3,900 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters on March 7, with an alarming increase rate of 79 per cent. The price of wheat in Europe has risen by over 50 per cent to a new high unseen in 14 years. Closed airspace between Russia and Europe results in 3.3 per cent of EU flights cancelled and costs the airlines an extra 10,000 euros (about 10,951.3 dollars) per detoured hour.
The European Central Bank has adjusted the inflation outlook of the euro zone from 3.2 per cent to 5.1 per cent. And all the losses will be borne by Europeans.
Meanwhile, the influx of over four million Ukrainian refugees into Europe poses a severe challenge to European countries with emerging social problems such as food shortages, lack of health care and children’s education.
The European mass mobilisation of support for Ukrainian refugees contrasts sharply with the reception often afforded refugees from other continents, such as those from Afghanistan or Syria.
More than four million Ukrainians have fled the country within five weeks to escape Russia’s “senseless war”, the United Nations said Wednesday. The speed and scale of the exodus is unprecedented in Europe since World War II, and has seen a wave of empathy extended to the women, children and elderly men who have made it across the border.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said 4,019,287 Ukrainians had fled across the country’s borders since the February 24 invasion, with more than 2.3 million going west into Poland. The flow has already surpassed UNHCR’s initial estimate that the war could eventually create up to four million refugees.
Women and children account for 90 per cent of those who have fled. Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are eligible for military call-up and cannot leave. In total, more than a quarter of the population living in government-controlled areas before the invasion have been forced to flee their homes, with an estimated 6.5 million uprooted people still within the country’s borders.
Nearly six in 10 Ukrainian refugees have headed west to Poland, the biggest of four EU countries bordering Ukraine. The country already had a well-established Ukrainian community of 1.5 million people, largely migrant workers.
From the start of the invasion to (March 29), around 364,000 people crossed in the opposite direction from Poland into Ukraine. They are typically Ukrainians working in Poland who have returned to take care of their families, or to find them and take them to the border. But there have also been refugees who have decided to go back out of homesickness, or to protect their homes. On March 4, the EU activated a never-used directive giving temporary protection to Ukrainians, allowing them to live, work, study and have access to welfare in any of the bloc’s 27 member states.
Some 800,000 people have applied for the status, while Ukrainians can stay three months without a visa in Europe’s Schengen open-borders zone.
Besides Poland, more than 600,000 Ukrainian refugees have reached Romania — many via Moldova — nearly 365,000 crossed into Hungary, and 280,000 into Slovakia.
Russia itself is now hosting 350,000 Ukrainian refugees, while Belarus has taken in more than 10,000.
Military losses remain hard to gauge
Five weeks into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv has kept the extent of its military losses under wraps, but analysts say the country has probably succeeded in limiting the toll thanks to years of preparation and smart tactics.
Hiding combat deaths and equipment destruction is standard procedure in wartime, and both Russia and Ukraine have given scant details on losses that are impossible to verify, but surely downplayed in order to keep morale up. “It’s not clear what the rate of attrition is for the Ukrainian forces is. The answer is, We don’t know,” said Michael Kofman, a Russia specialist at the CNA think-tank based in Arlington, Virginia.
Ukraine has provided just two military status reports since Moscow launched its invasion on February 24, initially hoping to overwhelm the country’s main cities in just a few days.
The latest came March 12, when Kyiv acknowledged 1,300 soldiers killed out of the country’s standing land-based force of 130,000 troops. Taking a standard wartime ratio used by observers of three wounded for every soldier killed, this would mean the fighting has taken around 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers out of combat — a figure analysts say is probably much higher.
Kyiv has been far more eager to discuss Russian losses, giving daily updates that now claim that 17,300 Russian soldiers have lost their lives.
Moscow for its part said on March 25 that after a month of fighting it had lost 1,351 soldiers with 3,825 wounded, with Russian sources confirming the death of one general and a senior naval commander. But Nato officials estimate that of the 150,000 to 200,000 Russian troops deployed to Ukraine, 30,000 to 40,000 have been either killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
With input from Xinhua, AFP
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Advisers mislead Putin
President Vladimir Putin is being misled by fearful advisers as his Ukraine invasion goes awry, with mutinous Russian troops sabotaging equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft, US and British intelligence agencies claim.
The close allies, whose spies have played up Russia’s failures and highlighted Kremlin divisions, said Putin’s advisers were “too afraid” to tell him the full truth about battlefield reverses and the real impact of sanctions.
Hours after the White House released its withering intelligence assessment, Britain’s GCHQ spy agency chief Jeremy Fleming said Thursday that the Russian leader had overestimated his military’s ability to secure a rapid victory. “We’ve seen Russian soldiers — short of weapons and morale — refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” Fleming said in a prepared speech to the Australian National University in Canberra.
“And even though Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgements must be crystal clear to the regime.”
Fleming said Putin had underestimated the Ukraine resistance, the strength of the international coalition against him, and the impact of economic sanctions.
His remarks echoed a White House briefing on declassified US intelligence on Wednesday, which said Putin’s relations with his own staff had deteriorated. “We obviously have information which we have now made public that he felt misled by the Russian military,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said.
The US and British spy reports come as questions mount about Putin’s relationship with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who disappeared from public view for weeks before reappearing March 26 in a television broadcast.
Television images showed Shoigu chairing a meeting on Russia’s defence procurement. It carried no date, but the minister referred to a finance ministry meeting the previous day.