What led to the War in Ukraine? Experts cannot answer this question unilaterally, just like historians still debate over the causes of the First World War over a century ago. When will the War come to an end?
Again, the range of responses is limitless. Mediators calling for peace have repeatedly come forward, most often Turkey and today China, with a 12-point position paper that is however judged “light on details”.
It’s been one year since Russia launched a full scale invasion into Ukraine, igniting a conflict that will dictate the course of world politics for the foreseeable future.
Let’s take a look at how the past year has already been shaped by the conflict, following the evolution of the support offered to each side and the political games bringing worldwide tensions to a new high.
How it started: The race to institute sanctions; China and India’s ambiguous position
From the onset of the aggression, the West imposed on Russia sanction after sanction, from blocking it from international financial institutions such as SWIFT, to carrying out asset seizures on Russian individuals and Russian companies, virtually cutting it off from the Western World.
In response, Russia has cut ties with the US dollar and has set up an alternative platform to the SWIFT payment system that it now uses with China. China and Russia use Yuan and the Rubble to trade oil, bypassing the sanctions.
The sanctions have also seemed to backfire as inflation in the West creeps higher. Cutting Russia off has thus guided it towards the Asian superpowers: India and China.
Since the beginning of the War, India and China’s position has been ambiguous but tilted towards Russia in the name of “national interests.” Almost a year ago, in March 2022, when the UN assembled to vote on a resolution to end the war in Ukraine, 141 nations voted in favour, 35 abstained from voting, including India and China, and five backed Russia’s invasion.
Since then, India and China have abstained from voting on similar resolutions at the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.
On Feb. 23, 2023, at the eleventh emergency special session called for ending the War in Ukraine, China and India yet again abstained from voting. Like in March 2022, 141 nations voted in favour of ending the war, but this time seven countries voted against, and 32 countries abstained from voting altogether.
Although both countries neither advocated in support of the War nor condemned it, they have played a decisive role in greasing the rusting wheels of Russia’s economy.
The friendship between Russia and India is “unbreakable,” Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi said in a meeting with his Russian counterpart in September 2022. The main tie to their bond together is energy.
In December 2022, India imported 1.2 million barrels of crude oil from Russia, 33 times more than a year earlier. This January, Russian oil made up 28% of India’s oil imports. Before the War, it made up 0.2%.
CNN journalist trying to lecture the Indian Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas.
Hardeep Singh Puri is not buying her bullshit narrative.
Welcome to the multipolar world…
— Richard (@ricwe123) February 20, 2023
Although India faced criticism from the West, it defended these purchases by stating that at 2,000$ per capita, India is “not in a position to pay high prices for oil.”
Another reason for India’s pursuit of Russian friendship is the threat posed by sharing over 2000 miles of border with China. Russia has reportedly supplied India with around $13 billion in weapons in the past five years alone.
India fears the rapprochement between Russia and China as Russia becomes more isolated by the West. As such, maintaining a strong and interdependent relationship became an even bigger priority for India.
On the Chinese front, Russia has indeed become much more reliant on its eastern ally. Twenty days before the invasion, the two powers struck a “no limits” partnership, setting the tone for the following year.
Aside from being a vital economic partner to Russia, it has also been a crucial political ally, backing Russia’s inflammatory rhetoric.
China’s average daily crude oil import from Russia has increased by 45% since pre-war levels, despite a slowdown in the economy and less demand for oil. China is now by far Russia’s biggest trading partner, accounting for over 20% of Russian exports and 40% of imports, doubling from pre-war levels.
The energy war: Europe cornered and India’s unexpected role
Surprisingly, with criticism waning, Washington is becoming “comfortable” with India’s purchases of Russian oil…as long as they are profitable.
The US wants to deprive Russia of its oil revenue by banning it from Western markets. Yet, they found a loophole to combat the ensuing surge in price: buying that same Russian oil from India and China. There, the oil has been refined and sold at a discounted price, and that’s much better for the optics.
India’s fuel exports to the European Union (EU) and the US have grown drastically in the past year. In January alone, India shipped 89,000 barrels a day of gasoline and diesel to New York, the most in nearly four years. Last year, India’s imports accounted for 5% of total oil imports to this region. Now it’s 40%.
“India’s willingness to buy more Russian crude at a steeper discount is a feature, not a bug, in the plan of Western nations to impose economic pain on Putin without imposing it on themselves,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and a former adviser in the Obama administration.
The question is: Are claims that the US is profiting from the war unfounded?
Some top EU officials don’t think so, and have similarly accused the US of profiting from the war “while EU countries suffer.”
“The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that is most profiting from this war is the U.S. because they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons,” a senior EU official told Politico.
These sentiments, adds Politico, are expressed by other European officials, diplomats and ministers, both privately and in public, and they’re linked to America’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) subsidies that are deemed “worrying” by the Dutch Trade Minister and “regrettably protectionist” as well as discriminating against US allies by Tonino Picula, a member of the European Parliament.
Similarly, in November last year, the EU’s diplomacy chief Josep Borell called on the US to consider Europe’s concerns.
Europe is left in the crosshairs and, as the EU official said, “public opinion is shifting in many EU countries.” Reducing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy forced them to turn to the US instead. Now, they enjoy purchasing fuel at four times the cost at which Americans do.
When the US was confronted about the exorbitant gas prices at the G20 summit in November, President Joe Biden seemed simply “unaware of the issue,” according to senior officials present.
The US also rejected the EU’s complaints, placing blame unilaterally on Russia: “The rise in gas prices in Europe is caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s energy war against Europe, period,” a spokesperson for Biden’s National Security Council said.
According to Kpler, America’s LNG exports to Europe in the first 11 months of 2022 were 137% higher than in the same period in 2021. In 2022, US LNG exports totalled $35Bn through September, compared to $8.3Bn over the same period in 2021, as US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows. In 2023, the US is expected to remain Europe’s top supplier of LNG.
Although Russia and the US were not strong trade partners, the EU relied on Russia as its fifth trading partner in 2021 as well as for around 40% of its gas supplies. Cutting Russia off through sanctions hit the EU hard and pushed it towards Uncle Sam’s open arms.
Ukraine has received significant support from the United States and the EU. This support, however, is increasingly under fire.
Does America’s generous help to Ukraine come with an agenda?
Despite the economic advantages, endorsement for help to be sent to Ukraine is beginning to decrease. With time, a very vocal Republican faction is becoming very opposed to sending more assistance to Ukraine, and “public support is beginning to wane.”
In March last year, 9% of Republicans thought the US was providing too much support to Ukraine, now, this number is much closer to 40%.
It’s also interesting to contrast how much humanitarian aid has been sent to Turkey and Syria following the catastrophic earthquakes they got hit with. Ukraine received a total of $108Bn in aid, having suffered a 8,000 civilian death toll.
In Turkey and Syria, the death toll reached 47,000, and America pledged to donate $185M, less than 2% of what was sent by the US in the same timeframe to Ukraine. This aid has been sent two weeks after the earthquake occurred. In comparison, two weeks after the War in Ukraine began, the US had already approved a $13.6bn aid package.
Although the war in Ukraine has been going on for a year, the drastic contrast in numbers here raise a key question: Is aid really humanitarian? Or is there a political dimension to it?
Is a turning point at hand?
The political game just got more complex this week with Putin issuing a fiery speech termed absurd by Washington and China suddenly positioning itself as a would-be mediator for peace.
Putin was the first to act this week with a state of the nation speech on Tuesday, February 21, where he announced the suspension of the New START treaty.
The New START Treaty was signed in Prague in 2010 between the USA and Russia. It limited the number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 and capped the number of deployed missiles, bombers and launchers.
Its suspension makes the threat of nuclear weapons much more tangible.
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The announcement of the suspension of the Treaty was perceived as “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible” by the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, despite the Kremlin’s assurance that it intends to “adhere to the broad strokes of the agreement, at least until its expiration date in 2026.”
Yet, despite not being under American scrutiny anymore, it would not be beneficial to Putin to increase the number of warheads. If he did, it would be perceived as a threat by the US, providing the necessary incentive for conservatives in Congress to push for an increase in deployed nuclear forces, cornering Putin even more.
The suspension of the Treaty was also very significant for US-China relations. The US has been increasingly concerned over China’s rapid military modernisation, fearing that the Cold Trade War between the two superpowers would suddenly become hot.
To ease those fears, the US wanted to reach an agreement similar to the New START, but with China.
Unfortunately for them, those hopes vanished on Tuesday. Indeed, the end of the Treaty “is only going to make China even less interested in pursuing cooperative nuclear security with the United States,” Zhao told Reuters.
By the end of the week – as this is being written – positions have changed once again, with China’s proposal to act as a mediator. Yet we need to keep in mind that China’s leadership so far has been key in supporting the Russian war narrative.
From the start, Chinese officials and the state media identified the US and NATO as the instigators of the War: igniting the initial fire with NATO’s expansion in the East and fuelling it by supplying Ukraine with weapons. Additionally, the Chinese embassy in Washington’s list of “Falsehoods Spread by the U.S. on the Ukraine Issue,” published in May, expressed China’s longstanding grievances about US foreign policy. It identified NATO expansion as the casus belli and accused America of benefitting economically from the War.
But Xi Jinping, President of China, speech on Friday, the day of the one-year mark is expected to be an attempt to push forward new peace-talk possibilities and advocate for a cease-fire ahead of the expected Spring offensive but reiterate Chinese support for Russia.
It is too soon to judge or predict how this will play out. And while the future of world politics and safety still hang in the air, one thing everyone must remember is that, as former UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proclaimed:
“In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.”