Written by: Kate Roglieri
The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine is the single largest geopolitical event to take place on the European continent since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The conflict has brought an end to a period of relative peace in Europe and has caused major powers around the world to draw lines in the sand and confront their own national security agendas. As of February 5th of this year, almost one year since the invasion began, 7,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed, and 11,600 have been injured. Not only is the human toll incredibly high, but the economic and political implications for both sides are immense. Seeing as the world has not seen a ground war of this scale involving a major power in decades, it is clear that the war’s end will have profound consequences for both states and their standing on the world stage.
To date, the estimated costs of rebuilding the damage to Ukraine range from $349 billion to $750 billion. This number is growing rapidly, as it is speculated that each week the war continues, Ukraine is suffering about $5 billion in damage to civilian infrastructure. Seeing as Ukraine’s current GDP sits at $200 billion, it is clear that rebuilding the nation will require an international effort.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has emerged as a powerful leader who has been able to garner international sympathy and support through his strength and powerful rhetoric. In September of 2022, Zelenskyy delivered a speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations in which he outlined his desired plan for eventual peace. Zelenskyy’s plan calls for the creation of a Special Tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes, the restoration of Ukraine’s damaged power infrastructure, and the formation of a strengthened European-Atlantic security alliance with built-in mechanisms to guarantee safety for the people of Ukraine.
While Zelenskyy’s first request is not untraditional, the other two indicate two areas in which the Ukrainian state will have the most potential to garner post-war change: energy politics and European inclusion. The mass destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure has posed questions about what a rebuilt energy system could and should look like, while European dependence on Russian gas and oil has been challenged by the various sanctions imposed by the EU upon The Kremlin. Furthermore, the international attention on Ukraine and the outpouring of support has raised questions about whether or not this will change its status as a candidate for EU membership.
One consequence of the war that has already become apparent is the growing connection between Ukraine and the European Union. Prior to the war, Ukraine was ideologically insulated by Russia, as Putin desired to keep the state bound in a Russian sphere of influence as a buffer from the EU member states to its west. Not only was Ukraine granted EU candidacy status in June of 2022, months after the Russian invasion launched, but EU member states have provided $53.6 billion to Ukraine in aid. The EU has also enacted harsh economic sanctions against Russia that have further strained its relationship with The Kremlin in an effort to illustrate both disapproval of Russian actions as well as support for the Ukrainian effort. This increased geopolitical and economic connectivity between the EU and Ukraine has generated questions about whether or not Ukraine should and would be inducted as a member state, with Ukrainian leaders pushing heavily for the idea to come to fruition. Most notably, President Zelenskyy proclaimed that “A Ukraine that is winning is going to be a member of the European Union”.
Seeing as much of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been targeted by Russian attacks, the war will also provide a moment of reflection on how to rebuild an entire nation’s energy system in the most cost-effective and sustainable manner. Many Russian ambushes directly cut off civilians from energy access, putting them at risk of serious harm or death in the cold Ukrainian winter. Furthermore, efforts from Western nations to sanction Russia as a result of their aggression have caused oil and gas prices to spike internationally. This has created a desire to seek out alternative energy sources which are, in many cases, more sustainable than gas and oil. In Germany, 75% of firms that use gas have reported a dip in gas consumption since the start of the war without any repercussions for production volume. According to a report from the International Energy Agency, renewable energy will become the world’s top source of electricity over the next three years, indicating that a significant shift in energy politics and consumption is near.
While it is impossible to predict exactly how the Russia-Ukraine war will end, it is clear that its resolution and mere occurrence will have profound consequences on the state of geopolitics all over the world. Discussions about Ukraine’s potential membership in the European Union have escalated internationally, and this move would completely transform Ukraine’s political and economic structures as well as its foreign relations. Energy politics have also been altered dramatically, with Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in shambles and European countries seeking alternative energy sources in an effort to boycott Russian gas and oil. Just as past large-scale conflicts on the European continent have proven, war does not only complicate affairs for warring states but can create massive political and economic change internationally. The continuation of the war and its eventual resolution will change the course of history forever and, therefore, will be the subject of much political discussion in the years to come.