How would a Russian invasion of Ukraine affect the world?

London (CNN) — The possibility of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifies the state of alarm in the region, threatening to plunge the country’s 44 million inhabitants further into the clutches of conflict.

But a Kremlin move would also extend far beyond the two nations’ shared border.

Experts fear it could usher in a new era of uncertainty in Eastern Europe, disrupting supply chains and the global economy and forcing a shift in geopolitical influence that could damage Western credibility.

These fears could still be avoided. The Ukrainian government is downplaying the immediate risks of a full-scale invasion, even as officials on all sides scramble to find a diplomatic solution to a standoff that the Biden administration warns is dangerously close to war.

If a raid does occur, it is unclear what form it would take, and predicting the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin is a notoriously reckless exercise. “Any contemporary war would be horrible, but there are gradations to horror,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus who is now a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank. acronym in English).

The effectiveness of a NATO-led response is also crucial in determining the duration and scope of any invasion’s impacts, analysts say.

But any Russian move would test the resolve of Western nations and raise a host of security and economic uncertainties.

“This is easily the most serious security crisis in Europe since the 1980s,” Gould-Davies said.

“Russia and the West have disagreed so fundamentally on worldview and that fundamental disagreement was swept under the rug for years,” added James Nixey, director of the Russia-Eurasia program at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

“Now Russia has decided that it is going to up the ante,” he said. “It’s a real-world problem that has global implications.”

The new front in Europe

As the threat of a Russian move into Ukraine grows, so does the volume of Western rhetoric.

US President Joe Biden told CNN on Tuesday that there would be “serious consequences” for any Russian invasion. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country would contribute to any new NATO deployment after an attack, while French President Emmanuel Macron said “the cost will be very high” if Putin decides to move.

But the “scale of the global reaction depends on the degree of Russia’s insertion in Ukraine,” Nixey said. He added that while many observers are cautiously optimistic that all-out war will be averted, “I’ve been wrong before, as have most Russia analysts.”

The most immediate consequences beyond Ukraine would be felt in the Eastern European and Baltic states, which would find an openly bellicose Russia at their doorstep.

“Ukraine borders several NATO states. There will be a lot of concern that this is not just something fenced off and that it would have spillover effects, but that their safety could be threatened,” Gould-Davies said.

Frontline Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas take shelter from the extreme cold.

“If Russia is allowed, or not discouraged, to redraw the borders once again, then clearly Russia will learn lessons from that, where does it go next?” Nixey added.

Much would then depend on NATO’s response, and countries that might find themselves in the line of fire would quickly notice an increased troop presence. As many as 8,500 US troops have been placed on high alert for possible deployment to Eastern Europe, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday. Three US officials familiar with the discussions also told CNN that the United States and its allies could send additional deployments to Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary in the coming days.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO and the alliance is not likely to send soldiers to the country. But after an incursion, a heavy troop presence would likely remain along Europe’s eastern edge as long as Russia held Ukrainian land, a prospect that would rekindle memories of a Cold War-era barrier splitting east of the country. West.

“There’s going to have to be a response along the NATO front line that acts as a deterrent … and you have to have a whole war strategy around that,” said Neil Melvin, director of studies at international security at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

“In Europe, this would change things enormously, because we are a long way from thinking in those terms,” ​​he added. Melvin predicted that the nations would require “forces large enough to fight for an extended period, to bring in new forces from the US.” [y] to fight the cyber dimensions”.

“It’s going to be a big change.”

economic concerns

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The economic consequences of an invasion are unknown, but there are several possible side effects that have worried experts since the buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border first became apparent.

More directly, the disruption of Ukraine’s agricultural production could have a direct impact on the food supply.

The country is one of the world’s top four grain exporters (it is expected to account for about a sixth of global maize imports over the next five years, according to International Grains Council projections), so a direct impact on its production could affect the supply of certain food products.

But more worrying is the potential impact on energy supplies and the consequences of harsh Western sanctions on Russia that would be expected after an incursion.

“If you’re talking about a big conflict [que involucra] to one of the world’s largest energy providers, and a major transit country to the rest of Europe, then there can be no significant impacts on energy markets,” Gould-Davis said.

Russia supplies about 30% of the European Union’s natural gas, and the country’s supplies play a vital role in power generation and domestic heating in Central and Eastern Europe.

Russia has already been accused of exploiting that dependency; The International Energy Agency said on Wednesday that Russia has contributed to insufficient gas supplies in Europe by cutting its exports, and in recent months the country has also put pressure on supplies in Moldova.

“We have seen Russia in recent months exploit and exacerbate global energy supply problems and drive up prices,” Gould-Davies added. “Could you consider the cost of something much more serious than this?”

Inflation in energy costs has already affected millions of households in Europe; In Britain, consumers will pay about £790 ($1,075) more to heat and light their homes this year, according to Bank of Americaand the conflict in Eastern Europe could trigger or deepen the cost of living crisis in several countries.

One concern in Europe is that Russia would be willing to handle a break with the European market, given its gradual shift of gas and coal supplies to China in recent years.

An acceleration in that change would cause “a huge shock to the economy [de Europa]because they will have to do something else,” Melvin said. This could potentially stall plans for a nuclear phase-out in parts of the continent if nations are forced to frantically search for energy alternatives.

Biden has been making contingency plans to shore up Europe’s energy supplies in case Russia invades, anticipating gas shortages and a hit to the world economy, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the EU is working on a “wide range of sectoral and individual sanctions” in the event of further Russian aggression, according to a statement from the European Commission that followed a virtual meeting with the leaders of the US, UK , Italy, France, Germany, Poland, the EU and NATO. Biden told CNN that he would anticipate “significant economic sanctions.”

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles was driving along a highway in Crimea earlier this month.

Analysts generally expect a wide-ranging sanctions package that could hit major Russian banks, the oil and gas sector and technology imports. But the effects in Europe and the rest of the world would also be felt.

“Any time you impose sanctions, you impose huge costs on the target, but you also risk recoil damage to yourself and your friends and allies,” said Nathan Sales, acting assistant secretary for civil security, democracy and human rights at the United States Department of State during the Trump administration.

And while sanctions targeting Russian individuals and companies have been relied on since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, there is still “a substantial investment relationship” between the country and the West that could be broken, Melvin said.

“The question now is how much further those sanctions would go and how much more isolated the Russian economy would become,” he added.

a world watching

Experts said the repercussions of an invasion, and more pertinently the strength of the Western response, would be felt around the world. Some fear that any Russian move that could be scored as a victory could encourage other nations involved in border disputes.

“China will be watching closely for lessons it can draw from Western resolve,” Gould-Davies said. “The Taiwanese are going to take lessons from that, like anyone on a border despite living next to a far superior leader,” Nixey agreed. Taiwan and mainland China have been ruled separately since the end of China’s civil war more than 70 years ago, but China’s ruling Chinese Community Party (CCP) sees the island as part of its territory and has not ruled out military force. to take it.

That context is underscoring a sense in some quarters that the US response to the Ukraine crisis could dictate how it looks around the world for a generation.

“We would see knock-on effects for years and maybe decades to come” if Russia orchestrates a successful move, Sales said. “That will tell dictators around the world that the United States is a paper tiger.”

He cited “rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran” as other nations that could seek to capitalize on such an outcome. But Sales added that there is also “a scenario in which the United States and NATO come out of this crisis with their credibility enhanced,” should a strong response initiate a Russian escalation.

If the prolonged tensions lead to a Russian attack, it could also renew a debate in the US about what role the country should play in Europe. “Now they have a very sharp political divide between a global policing role, which Biden has championed, or the other camp that we only do what is in America’s interest,” Melvin said.

Although many implications of a Russian move in Ukraine remain uncertain, there is one thing experts can agree on. “In international politics, everyone is always looking at everyone else,” Gould-Davies said.

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