Should the Russian invasion of Ukraine be a concern for Africa?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an unprovoked act of aggression and producing a humanitarian catastrophe. It has caused the biggest international crisis since the end of the Cold War. Ukraine is fighting on its own and bravely resisting but will not be able to stop Putin’s war. As at the beginning of March a massive Russian attack is being launched on Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are fleeing to neighbouring states.
The Western world has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow, has closed their airspace to Russian aircraft and has frozen Russian assets within their jurisdictions. A United Nations Security Council resolution strongly condemned Russia’s invasion and called on Moscow to withdraw its troops immediately and provide safe access for humanitarian relief support. Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, vetoed this resolution. Eleven member countries voted in favour. China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained. (Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway are the other non-permanent members of the Security Council.)
South Africa’s response to this development was a bit of a fiasco. Initially it condemned the Russian invasion when International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor issued an “unusually strong” statement calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. Media reports then said President Cyril Ramaphosa was unhappy with this statement because it contradicted South Africa’s policy. Pretoria tried to patch up relations with the Kremlin. It was reported that President Ramaphosa even blamed US President Joe Biden for the invasion. He suggested that if Biden had agreed to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin unconditionally days before Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, it would have been averted.
Africa should be very concerned about what is happening in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of a much smaller sovereign state posing no threat to its own territorial integrity, is an outright act of aggression. These actions violate the basic principles underpinning the international legal and political order, including those adhered to by the African Union. And it will cause major disruptions in global trade and commerce.
Vladimir Putin’s intentions are not known but this crisis will have serious long-term consequences. International relations will not be “normal” again. The European order which came about after the end of the Cold War, is under threat. African Governments will face serious economic disruption and new political challenges. They will come under pressure from different quarters and will have to adopt appropriate responses and policies.
The Covid pandemic has left the global economy with high inflation and jittery financial markets. Aftershocks from the invasion of Ukraine are expected to worsen both. The severity of this new crisis will depend on how long the war in Ukraine lasts and how punitive steps against Moscow are escalated. The international military conflict itself could worsen. The fact that Putin has put Russia’s nuclear arsenal on high alert is extremely worrying. Russia might also increase cyber attacks. There may be a massive refugee crisis.
It has been noted that a “prolonged conflict, tougher Western response and disruptions to Russia’s oil and gas exports would deliver a bigger energy shock and a major blow to global markets. A worst-case outcome would see Europe’s gas supply cut off, triggering a recession, while the US would see significantly tighter financial conditions, a bigger hit to growth.” Countries everywhere will feel the impact of commodity-price spikes, for staple grains like wheat, and also for energy. There will be price volatility, disrupted grain supplies (of Ukraine is a major producer), of oilseeds and fertiliser. By 2 March the price for Brent crude oil had breached US$ 110, with further increases imminent.
Russia will suffer the biggest blow. The price for President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the policy behind this act, will be a shrinking economy, a falling Rouble and hardship for ordinary Russians. There will be a hostile world out there. China will take a hard look at the implications for its own policies, including in Africa.
 Bloomberg 24 Feb 2022.
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