World won't be able to back out of Russia sanctions - analysis

The Ukraine invasion is a turning point because, like the pandemic, it is accelerating existing breakdowns in the world order. 

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin delivers a special address Thursday on Russian state TV, authorizing a military operation in Ukraine’s Donbass region.  (photo credit: REUTERS TV)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin delivers a special address Thursday on Russian state TV, authorizing a military operation in Ukraine’s Donbass region.
(photo credit: REUTERS TV)

As the US and Western countries continue to slap sanctions on Russia, and Russia continues to make tough demands of Ukraine that would basically take away Ukraine’s right to self-defense, questions remain about how the world can extricate itself from this.

The Ukraine invasion is a turning point because, like the pandemic, it is accelerating existing breakdowns in the world order. 

The first breakdown that began with Covid was between China and the West.

While the issue of China’s rise was always a key concern to the US over the last decade, there were many views on how to “manage” that rise. The consensus in the last several years was that the US had to build a larger navy to confront China. The pandemic confirmed many people’s worst fears because of how China handled the initial reports.

Now China continues its zero-Covid policy as the world tries to move on. But the lack of trust is permanent. It’s not clear if most western countries will trust China again. New US-backed pacts such as AUKUS with the UK and Australia are clearly aimed at China. 

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier this month.  (credit: Sputnik/Kremlin/Reuters) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier this month. (credit: Sputnik/Kremlin/Reuters)

Now comes Russia’s invasion. The US already had tensions with Russia, as did Europe. But most of those tensions were being managed. And then the Russian invasion threw down a gauntlet.

If the US and Europe had accepted their actions against Ukraine or merely put out statements, then Russia could do what it wanted with impunity. But the US and European Union countries have gone the other way, using tough sanctions against Russia. Russia is being cut off from many global brands and this trend looks to continue. 

This way of conflict, using all the power of western economies and corporations is new. It mixes big tech, social media, and major brands, with oil imports, all into elements of foreign policy.

How exactly can the world come back from that?

This new Hobbesian world order can’t be reversed. It means that for the foreseeable future, all these countries that were once slightly at odds with the West, are now seriously at odds, to the extent that they are likely heading for war one day. The idea that the 1990s had seen the end of major wars is now looked upon like the 1920s; a naïve era. 

As we enter the new world order of chaos and US tensions with Russia and China, and as western countries are increasingly forced to choose, policies are being enacted that will not be easy to shift.

This means that once you withdraw major corporations from Russia, it’s not easy to send them back. It may seem ridiculous to argue that Ferrari or Netflix not doing business in Russia is easily reversible, but it may not be. Russia and China, and other countries, will fill the void that these companies leave. Nature abhors a vacuum. Now there is a vacuum.  

The issue of this rapidly expanding vacuum, paired with the accelerating changes in the world order and inflation unleashed by the pandemic could lead to many unforeseen consequences.

We don’t know what these may be, but we can see how other states like Iran may take this opportunity to behave differently than in the past.

There is now impunity for all the things that states had held back from in the past. This impunity means that the international order may not be able to stop the worst offenses. Russia’s invasion has shown us that it’s easy for a major war to break out and for millions to be forced to flee.

Experts now talk about a long conflict in Ukraine. And indeed, how will the millions who are fleeing return home?

Soon the number displaced by the war may reach ten percent of Ukraine’s population. How will they return?

How will the decisions being made to sanction Russia, be reversed? It’s not clear, and since it is likely they will not be reversed, this will set in motion overt processes.

The processes may encourage new financial and trade markets to form around China and this will be part of the process unleashed by the pandemic.

A cornered and isolated Russia which already works with China will work with China more. China and Russia will want to work with Iran. Whereas before Iran was not a close ally of either state, now it may become one. Iran already signed a new 25-year agreement with China. How will China balance its relations with Israel and the Gulf when Iran wants to use China for its own benefit?

What will Turkey do next? What will India do now that it has appeared to abstain from critique of Russia? 

As these questions grow we will likely see more chaos and unexpected crisis in the future.