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A Russian military column moves across the town of Armyansk, northern Crimea. (Image: Sergei MalgavkoTASS via Getty Images)
A Russian military column moves across the town of Armyansk, northern Crimea. (Image: Sergei MalgavkoTASS via Getty Images)

The BulletinFebruary 25, 2022

War in Europe

A Russian military column moves across the town of Armyansk, northern Crimea. (Image: Sergei MalgavkoTASS via Getty Images)
A Russian military column moves across the town of Armyansk, northern Crimea. (Image: Sergei MalgavkoTASS via Getty Images)

Russia has invaded Ukraine in Europe’s ‘darkest hour’ since 1945, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

The Russian military has unleashed a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. What Vladimir Putin termed a “special military operation” was an invasion, as cruise missiles started exploding in Kyiv and Ukraine’s largest cities just before dawn yesterday. The Guardian has written about the first salvos in an unwelcome war. It’s a sad testament to the state of affairs in the 21st century that a democracy, however imperfect in Ukraine, is being invaded by an authoritarian, nuclear-armed Russia. Only a generation after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the iron curtain, Russia is once again looking to subjugate parts of eastern Europe. Across a stunned continent, leaders have warned that Europe faces its darkest hour since the Second World War.

Let’s go back to the basics. The Washington Post has a quick explainer on the conflict. One of the points raised is a central part of Putin’s propaganda, that the invasion is meant to “denazify” the Ukrainian government. Ukraine’s president is jewish and was a comedian. He isn’t a Nazi. Want more details? Peter Bale has written a not-so-short introduction to the conflict.

The world is responding with sanctions and emergency meetings. Announcing the invasion of his neighbour, Putin told the Russian people they weren’t safe from the threats emanating from a democratic Ukraine. He said the Russian military would not occupy Ukrainian territory or “impose anything by force”. Moments later, his military attacked the country and began occupying its territory. There are reports of fighting throughout Ukraine, even outside Chernobyl. According to Reuters, an emergency meeting of the UN security council was called yesterday where Russia called on Ukraine to surrender. The US has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine, but most of the world is united in preparing a package of economic sanctions to punish the invasion.

Will sanctions be enough? Only hours before the invasion, foreign affairs experts were musing about whether harsh economic sanctions from the west could be enough to deter Russian aggression. Sanctions didn’t work eight years earlier when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The Russian economy was pummelled for two years, with the value of the ruble falling sharply and the price of many goods soaring in the country. But in retrospect, the verdict appears to be that those sanctions may have been too timid. It was hoped that the promise of a global economic boycott could change things this time. It appears those hopes were misplaced. With massive sanctions coming against a modern economy, the Atlantic writes that nothing has been attempted like this before.

This war will now have a heavy price for Ukraine, for Russia and for the world. In the wake of painful economic sanctions from the west, Moscow is likely to retaliate with painful cyber warfare. Russia is also one of the world’s largest oil producers. After oil soared overnight, petrol prices are likely to increase sharply in the coming days and weeks. As Stuff reports, New Zealand has condemned the attack and told Russia that it’s prepared to work with its partners on diplomatic and economic bans. “We stand with the people of Ukraine,” said foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta.

What does this mean for New Zealand? I spoke to Robert Patman, international relations professor at the University of Otago, about what’s coming next. Like many reporters in Kyiv and leaders across the world, he still seemed in disbelief. He used the word “appalling” a number of times in the first few minutes of our conversation. With eastern European countries on edge, supporting Ukraine with military equipment and unwilling to see it fall to the Russian army, there’s a possibility the situation could spiral out of control, he warned. Here’s Patman on what New Zealand needs to do:

“I don’t think New Zealand can sit this one out. We’ve always prided ourselves on standing up for decency and an independent foreign policy. Small countries like New Zealand need a global system based on rules. Those rules were just trashed. We need to avoid the drift to might is right. Let’s be quite clear. Small and middle powers are important in international politics. We wouldn’t accept a master-servant relationship with China and that’s what Russia is seeking in Ukraine. That’s unacceptable.”

Keep going!