Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that Russia has invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine. Now, despite a flurry of Instagram posts with middle-class Australians lamenting how bad it is to be alive in this day and age (which seems somewhat insensitive as Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are being killed), nobody appears to have much of an idea what is going on apart from the, albeit correct, take that Russia is being bad and doing bad stuff.

On February 24th, Russia initiated a large-scale invasion of Ukraine (it’s former Soviet vassal state), after mounting tensions and a build-up of troops on the Russian and Belarusian borders. The invasion marks already the largest conventional warfare operation in Europe since World War II. Russia’s stated purpose was to stop the enlargement of NATO onto its most important border, however on the day of the invasion Putin embarked on an unhinged rant claiming that Ukraine is ancestral Russian territory, in what appeared to be an irredentist lust for the former glory of the Soviet Union.

Indeed, what should be obvious to all the world is that Putin’s primary geopolitical goal is to expand the territory of Russia. Having now invaded two former Soviet Republics (the other being Georgia) and destabilising democratic movements across others. On the domestic side, Putin is brutally suppressing dissent and disseminating propaganda.

Putin has described the collapse of the Soviet Union, a murderous regime known for its brutal suppression of dissent within and imperialistic ambitions abroad, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” The Russian leader has voiced his opinion that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people”, but simultaneously argues Russia was “robbed” by Ukraine of its sovereignty over Crimea and other Eastern lands of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Ukrainians, on the other hand, are deeply sceptical of Russian authority. Ukrainians were responsible for a significant portion of heavy lifting in WW2 and suffered a genocide at the hands of Soviet Russia in the early 30s under Stalin which killed 3.5 million people due to the threat of a Ukrainian independence movement.

The question, now, is what can be done to help Ukraine. Despite its critics from the far-left and far-right, the US administration is doing a surprisingly effective job at coalescing international condemnation towards Russia. In a boon for the liberal rules-based international order (which was looking very fragile post-2016), Western countries and allies have joined in universal denunciation of the attacks and have instituted significant sanctions programs.

The US has been, of course, adeptly spearheading the effort, sharing intelligence, co-ordinating responses with European nations and using the common Cold War playbook of allowing the EU to move first before throwing its full support behind them.

However, much of the praise goes to Germany, who in a matter of days had moved from being under Russia’s economic thumb to becoming one of its gravest foes. New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in response to Russian aggression, cancelled development of the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline. 40% of Germany’s energy consumption is derived from Russia, and years of American pressure could not convince Germany to budge on this under Angela Merkel.

Germany has also committed to a dramatic increase in military spending, now to 2% of GDP which would put it in line with NATO targets. Sweden, famed for its neutrality during the Cold War, is providing arms to Ukraine, whilst Norway is selling off all its Russian oil assets. 60% of Fins now support joining NATO to protect against the threat on their Eastern border.

Other unprecedented sanctions have been introduced, with SWIFT, an interbank messaging network, choosing to bar some major Russian banks from making cross-border payments. But the most devastating sanction is a freeze on the foreign transactions of the Russian central bank. As the rouble has collapsed, the Central Bank needs to buy some back to stabilise the currency. However, to do so it requires foreign exchange reserves, which it is now barred from using in any meaningful form.

Since writing this article, the central bank has decided to hike its interest rate to 20% from 9.5%. Whilst this will likely stabilise the currency, Russian consumers and businesses will take a large hit to their balance sheets, causing further unrest on top of what’s already there.

Due to the persistence of the Ukrainian army, a prolonged war will likely have grave outcomes for Russia. If Ukraine holds steady, and the West can withstand the effect of its sanctions (such as the record petrol prices that we are currently seeing), there is a significant possibility the Russian economy will completely collapse, with the ultimate effect of regime change not entirely unplausible.

Indeed, the Russian economy has fallen into complete shambles. Russian shares have dropped 34% since the invasion, the rouble has fallen 24% and there are queues outside Russian banks as depositors scramble to withdraw their money. The US has itself announced an embargo of Russian oil imports, however Russian oil only accounts for 8% of US energy consumption.

European nations (barring the UK) have not been as quick to pull the trigger on an oil embargo, and the reasons are clear. Half of Russian exported oil is shipped to the EU, and an embargo would destroy local supply chains. However, the war is certainly not going well for Russia. Ukrainian resistance has been fierce and international opposition has been united. Putin has been sacking military generals after not achieving the quick victory he had been hoping for, and the potential of a future European oil embargo on Russia means there is still damage that can be done.

On the Ukrainian side, the economy has gone into full war production mode. Zelensky has lowered taxes to 2% on the condition that businesses remain at usual production levels to support the war effort. Banks are providing the military with armoured vehicles; regular citizens have taken up arms and food and fuel is being prioritised for soldiers.

The fighting spirit of Ukraine and its President is formidable, and as long as Western support remains, Ukraine stands a fighting chance of holding out and preserving its sovereignty. For the fate of those yearning for freedom of democracy across the globe, it is certainly our duty not to fold.

Indeed, commentators have been quick to equivocate an invasion of Ukraine to an invasion of Taiwan; Despite how unfortunate the situation is; however, an invasion of Taiwan would be much ghastlier, and more likely to lead to global war for several reasons.

Firstly, the Taiwanese economy is vastly more powerful than that of Ukraine. There are no Western interests in Ukraine, and general support is mostly due to the ideological backing of democracy and self-determination. In contrast, Taiwan is the 22nd largest economy in the world and controls the supply of semiconductors that are integral to modern technology. TSMC is the largest semiconductor company in the world, and to this date no other nation has had major success in the industry.

Secondly, 46% of Americans support defending Taiwan if China directly invades, whilst only 33% believed the same for Ukraine. China is certainly a more hated foe than Russia across the West, and support of Taiwan has persisted since 1949 when the Chinese nationalist government lost the civil war and fled there, and the country has since developed into a prosperous economy and a vibrant democracy.

Much must also be said about the unity of certain politically divided countries in addressing the situation. On a personal note, I was concerned about the tendencies of the conservative movement in the US to support, or at least dismiss, authoritarian behaviours of foreign countries. However, Republicans have actually been slightly more supportive of Ukraine than Democrats as per polling studies.  

Indeed, the irony may be that it takes an authoritarian regime invading a young and peaceful nation to heal some of the divisions in the West, much like how communism, liberalism and imperialism all united to defeat the fascist threat in WW2.

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