The world has been fixated on the shocking conflict in Ukraine over the past few days after news broke on Thursday that Russia had launched a full-scale military invasion of its sovereign, democratic neighbour.
It’s a horrifying state of affairs that has long historic roots and the culmination of tensions that have lingered in the region for decades. Still, very few people, including most Ukrainians and Russians, expected that one of the world’s most powerful countries would seriously decide to start a land war in Europe.
The fallout over the past few days has been swift and devastating. Russian tanks are rolling in convoy through the east of Ukraine while street fighting has begun in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and Kyiv, the capital. Russian missiles have hit civilian targets in Kyiv and Ukraine has called on all men between the ages of 18 and 60 to take up arms against the invaders.
Overnight, Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has become an online sensation after demonstrating the kind of resolve and determination to help his people rarely seen by Western leaders. Denying offers of an evacuation, Zelenskyy told foreign powers that he needs “ammunition, not a ride,” and has been photographed in military fatigues, vowing to fight to the death if that is what it takes to stop the Russian attack.
Deriding Russian threats not to intervene in the conflict, world leaders have moved to sanction the country in what is sure to be a crippling blow to the Russian economy. There have also been numerous offers of military equipment to Ukraine to bolster their defences in the face of the invasion.
What Is the World Doing to Stop Russia?
The actions the world has taken so far against Russia are both economic and military. However, it is highly unlikely that foreign powers will directly intervene militarily in defence of Ukraine for fear of the conflict with a nuclear-armed nation spiralling out of control.
The US has been the largest supporter of Ukraine, with President Biden offering an additional US $350 million in military aid over the weekend. This is the third authorisation of weapons to Ukraine in an “unprecedented” move by the US. Anti-armour, small arms, body armour, anti-aircraft systems and munitions are currently being supplied to Ukraine’s front-line by the US, whose overall support for the nation now totals more than US $1 billion.
The European Union is also mounting a serious delivery of military items to Ukraine in a historic break with the longstanding practice of not supplying lethal weapons to foreign countries during conflict.
Germany, the Netherlands, France, Portugal, the UK, and the Czech Republic have all committed military supplies to the defence of Ukraine while other nations, including India and Azerbaijan, have provided strategic and medicinal support.
In terms of economic sanctions, the global community is almost unanimously aligned on the restriction of the Russian economy. The biggest of these sanctions is the notable removal of Russia from the SWIFT banking system. This is a global financial messaging system that enables the transfer of cash around the world. Without this, Russia and the Russian people are essentially cut off from moving money in or out of the country.
It’s hard to overstate what a devastating impact this will have on the economy, with experts suggesting the country could soon see hyperinflation, a run on the banks, production shutdowns, mass unemployment, and severe rationing.
Russia’s Central Bank has had its international assets frozen by countries around the world while targeted sanctions on Russian oligarchs, wealthy friends and supporters of President Putin, have also been undertaken.
Putin himself has been the target of many of these sanctions, with his own overseas assets and those of his Security Council and other top officials also being frozen.
It’s worth mentioning that, in the weeks and months before the invasion, as Russia was amassing troops and military supplies on the Ukrainian border, foreign powers were also sending military supplies to Ukraine, so this is not quite as reactionary as it seems. However, these sanctions are some of the most extreme ever employed against a nation state and the targeting of a state leader.
What Is Australia Doing to Help?
Australia, for its part, has played a role in helping to curtail Russia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously announced that Australia will be working in “lock step” with the US and the UK in moving to sanction Russia and has agreed to provide military equipment, medical supplies, and cybersecurity assistance in the denying of Russian cyber attacks on Ukrainian government services.
While we did stop short of offering lethal military support, Morrison on Sunday confirmed that Australia would now be providing “lethal aid” to Ukraine.
“Russia must pay a heavy price,” Morrison said yesterday.
“We will continue to add to that price, as we consider every single option that is in front of us. I am taking nothing off the table.”
It is understood that Australia will not directly provide weapons, but will contribute an undisclosed figure to the NATO fund to purchase weapons for Ukraine.
Australia is also boosting its humanitarian aid to Ukraine by prioritising refugee visas for Ukrainians, with further announcements to come, according to the government.
Morrison has also said that Australia is considering expelling Russian diplomats and halting trade relations with the country while current sanctions target Putin directly.
However, the Greens have noted that Australia gets roughly 1% of its crude oil from Russia and that cutting off this trade would send a strong signal to Russia while further restricting its few remaining financial offerings.
How Might Putin Respond?
It’s unclear yet how Putin will respond to the sanctions and the global effort to stop his attack.
While Russia has a few options, including the shutting off of natural gas and crude oil to Europe, these responses are just as likely to cause further chaos for themselves as for their adversaries.
The Russian President is reported to be “furious” that his invasion of Ukraine has not been as easy as he expected, and that Russian forces have so far failed to capture the capital.
There are suggestions that Russia could resort to using nuclear weapons on Ukraine, as the order has been given for nuclear forces to stand on high alert. Such a threat has been deemed “totally unacceptable” by the US and, if launched, could provoke the West into a retaliatory attack on Russia.
That seems far-fetched, however, this attack also did not seem likely just a week ago.
For now, Russian officials are being said to have flown to Belarus to meet with their Ukrainian counterparts on the Ukrainian border to negotiate peace talks.
These talks have been reportedly underway for several hours now, however, there is still continued fighting throughout Ukraine. Only time will tell exactly where this leads and how this whole conflict concludes.