The real cost of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine
Just like in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, this assault will have a long shadow, something that will have a lasting effect. A long tail, as they say
This past month, the news outlets have been abuzz about the ramifications of the war in Ukraine, brought upon the country by its neighbour. But while President Biden touts Russia’s expulsion from the G20, it must be remembered that a country is always greater than its current ruler.
Many political analysts have opined that the attack on Ukraine may be Vladimir Putin’s swansong and after a month of fighting in Ukraine’s major cities, it can be safely said that fate does seem to be on Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s side, if we discount the humanitarian cost. When Russia attacked Ukraine on 24 February 2022, most of the world expected Kiev to fall within days, if not hours.
There is something to be said about the sustenance and resilience of the Ukrainian people. They have not only held the Russian firepower in its tracks, but the country has also come together, setting aside its prejudices and political differences, to fight against the common enemy. Vlad Putin can very well say goodbye to a legacy he was attempting to leave behind.
As it seems now, whatever happens in the next few days or months, Putin’s days may indeed be numbered. On the contrary, the once-comedian Zelenskyy continues to gain approval in most parts of the world. After the dust settles, he will forever be remembered for his chutzpah and the inherent leadership he has exhibited in the face of one of the mightiest military powers on the planet. His retort to America ‘The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride’ will be oft-repeated in history whenever bravery is discussed.
We have all seen the images of the ravages of this attack on the Ukrainian cities – the dilapidated buildings, the schools which have been turned to rubble despite the signs, in Russian, to not bomb them, the hospitals where the premature babies and the sickly older population hope to live another day.
What we do not regularly see, and what may be the real cost of this aggression, are the four million people (10% of its population) who have fled the country, to seek refuge elsewhere. While their acceptance is greater than in the case of the refugees from Syria, Yemen or Afghanistan, their rehabilitation will inevitably take a toll on the already stretched local economies. It is heartening to see the countries open their hearts and their borders for this god forsaken people, and still more needs to be done.
Poland seems to be leading the pack in terms of accepting those fleeing the war infested country. So far, it has taken in 2.3 million Ukrainians. In one of the pictures which went viral on social media, one could see strollers and stuffed toys left on the Polish train stations for those arriving from Ukraine.
Hungary, Romania, and Moldova have taken in another 1.5 million into their arms. It needs to be noted that these countries are sparsely populated themselves. Poland has a population of 38 million, Hungary boasts 9.75 million, Romania stands at 20 million, while Moldova has just over 2 million citizens. To take in a substantial percentage of their existing populations, these countries have exhibited their magnanimity as well as their compassion towards fellow citizens of the world. This is something the rest of the world needs to learn from, perhaps the next time they build a concentration camp lookalike to deport people who have lived in certain countries for generations.
It is but this humanity, and the explicit show of it, which will save the planet. Not aggressors like Putin, or his sympathizers like the rulers of Belarus and Georgia, respectively.
In addition to those who have fled the country, there are millions of Ukrainians who have been displaced internally (IDPs, as the United Nations calls them). They hope to return to their cities, their neighbourhoods, their homes after Russia’s aggression ends.
They perhaps never will and will live in camps for a generation or two, forever attempting to escape the cycle of poverty, while the humanitarian agencies will fly in their workers to dole out charity. This is a situation which could have been avoided completely, and its wake, leaves a lesson for the rest of us to not be neutral when the moment to ostracize an aggressor presents itself. Not every country can be a Switzerland in World War II.
The leading economies of the world are already feeling the pain of the ongoing assault. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has reported the following GDP growth rates at pre and post war levels. Before the assault, the US was growing at 3.4%, the UK at 4%, Italy was at 4.4%, France at 4.1%, while Russia was at 2.6% and Ukraine at 3.3%.
One month later, the US is projected to be growing at 3%, the UK at 3.9%, Italy and France both are at 3.4%. The Russian rate of GDP growth has plummeted to -10.1% and sadly, Ukraine now stands at -46.5%. We will likely see the consequences of this military offense for our lifetime. Just like in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, this assault will have a long shadow, something that will have a lasting effect. A long tail, as they say.
I found it interesting that in a Pew research poll recently, while 72% Americans said they had faith in Volodymyr Zelenskyy to do the right thing, only 48% voted for Biden and 15% for Xi. I wouldn’t vouch that many Americans follow the ongoing onslaught very closely, but this research perhaps portends the ultimate posterity – the afterword, post the assault.
(The author is the founder of EdTech StartupZEducatr and a former Chief of Communications with UNICEF in New York, where he worked for more than a decade. Views are personal).
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)