The invasion of Ukraine is having major international effects and consequences. The war is causing thousands of deaths, injuries and refugees, but it has also caused energy and food prices to rise in various parts of the world. This conflict affects us all in different ways, politically, economically and militarily.
War has returned to Europe, and the continent must stand united in the face of the Russian offensive. In this regard, the European Union has responded forcefully, jointly and firmly against the Russian invasion. If Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to divide the EU-27 with his aggression against Ukraine, he has achieved the opposite. Brussels has passed tough economic sanctions against the Russian regime and, for the first time in history, the EU has provided arms to Ukraine through the European Peace Facility.
In addition to this fund, many European countries have sent arms to Ukraine in parallel. Germany's decision to deliver heavy weapons to Kiev is noteworthy here, a turning point in German policy. From the beginning of the Russian invasion, Berlin refused to send arms to Ukraine, a move that has earned it criticism both in Ukraine and within the EU. However, in the wake of the Russian aggression, Germany opted to increase defence spending by 2% of GDP.
Mariupol pic.twitter.com/lbOe7jVJap— ZOKA (@200_zoka) April 12, 2022
The Russian attack on Ukraine is also an offensive against Europe, its values and way of life. The invasion of Ukraine shows that European democracy is not guaranteed, which is why it is necessary to defend it and, if necessary, to fight for it. That is why European unity is now more important than ever, as is solidarity with Ukraine and its citizens. The European Union has been strengthened. Moreover, after the Russian invasion began, Ukraine and Georgia have reiterated their desire to join the organisation.
The same has been true of NATO. The North Atlantic Alliance, with the war in Ukraine, has been resurrected from the "brain death" it suffered in 2019. Then, with Donald Trump as US president, NATO's relevance, leadership and unity were in jeopardy. Moreover, Turkey, an important member of the partnership, was moving closer to Moscow and distancing itself from Washington. But with the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House and the subsequent escalation of tensions with Russia, NATO began to re-establish itself as a key global alliance. In the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, this relevance and unity among members has increased and has even prompted other countries, such as Finland and Sweden, to express their intention to join the military organisation.
The threat posed by Russia and the current situation in Ukraine has pushed Helsinki and Stockholm into NATO. Both countries are leaving behind their defensive neutrality and, despite Moscow's harsh declarations, the Finnish and Swedish governments are beginning to draw up plans to join the Alliance, which has already confirmed that they will "easily join".
As the war rages in Ukraine, the Russian and NATO military presence in the Mediterranean Sea is increasing. The region is central to Western interests. Some 65% of the oil and natural gas that reaches Europe passes through this sea, while the thousands of ships that pass through it every day account for around 30 % of world trade.
Russia, for its part, stepped up its presence in the region following its intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015. Since then, Moscow has maintained the Tartus naval base in the Arab country, the only base of its kind outside the borders of the former Soviet Union. The Russian army also has the Khmeimin air base at its disposal.
The Mediterranean is a key strategic, economic and energy region. The eastern part contains important natural gas reserves that have often been the subject of disputes between Turkey and Greece. For these reasons, the area has become a key focus in recent weeks, coinciding with increased tension between NATO and Russia over the situation in Ukraine. As the conflict continues in the country and the rift between Washington and Moscow intensifies, the Mediterranean is experiencing heavy militarisation by both sides seeking to enhance their role in the region.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, NATO conducted several military exercises, including operations in the Mediterranean area. In early February, weeks before the start of the war, the Alliance conducted exercises in the Ionian Sea with the aim, according to the Pentagon, of "demonstrating NATO's ability to integrate a sophisticated maritime strike force". During these exercises in the Mediterranean, the US aircraft carrier strike group Harry S. Truman was brought in, something that has not happened since the Cold War era.
Russia did not sit idly by and also conducted operations in the area shortly after NATO did, resulting in the largest Russian naval deployment in the Mediterranean since the Cold War. These manoeuvres in the eastern part of the sea, Moscow stressed, were aimed at 'protecting national interests' and 'repelling military threats against Russia'.
Today, with the war in Ukraine ongoing, both sides are making moves in the region that have not been seen since the Cold War era. "Ukraine has changed things. The Americans are back," Thibault Laverhne, regional communications officer for the French army in the Mediterranean, confirms to AFP. The situation in Ukraine has prompted Washington to move ships from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean in order to confront Russian troops and monitor their movements.
The French aircraft Atlantique 2, manufactured by Dessault Aviation, is one of the tools used by NATO to monitor Russian movements. The aircraft is equipped with radar, a 3,200 millimetre camera and systems capable of detecting magnetic fields and picking up nearby radar signals. Atlantique 2 is based at NATO's Souda base on the island of Crete and, Lieutenant Commander Johann told AFP, is intended to "demonstrate to the Russians that the eastern Mediterranean is an area of manoeuvre for NATO allies".
Russia sends supersonic bombers and MiG-31s armed with nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missiles to Syria for military exercises in Mediterranean Sea. USS Harry Truman carrier strike group also in the Med.pic.twitter.com/eImpDQnkoW— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) February 15, 2022
On the other hand, according to Laverhne, Russia "has doubled, if not tripled" its military capacity in the area, since "where there are American forces, there are also Russian forces". Moscow currently has around 20 warships in the Mediterranean. The aim of these ships, in addition to deterrence, is also to monitor the movements of allied forces also in the region. The French officer explains that Russian forces have expanded north of Crete, west of Greece and north of the Aegean Sea, near the Black Sea.
In this context, Turkey is a country of great importance due to its control over two key straits: the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Russian ships in the Mediterranean that want to move into the Black Sea to support Russian troop operations in the Ukraine must pass through the channel that separates Europe from Asia. For this reason, and mindful of Ankara's role, the Ukrainian ambassador to the country requested the closure of the straits shortly after Russia launched its offensive against Ukraine.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to the diplomat's demand and decided to close the Bosporus and the Dardanelles to warships. He invoked the 1936 Montreux Convention, which gives Ankara the right to limit the passage of ships through its straits during wartime.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed "appreciation" to Ankara for its decision. Washington has also applauded Turkey's role during the war. Although the Turkish government is careful in its language to avoid offending Moscow, Ankara condemns the Russian invasion while backing Ukraine, where it has sent Bayraktar drones despite Russian criticism.
Ankara's stance on the war is therefore an opportunity to improve Turkey-US ties. According to Asli Aydintasbas, a senior member of the European Council, the current situation has introduced 'a level of stability and engagement between the two countries that was not there before the war'. US diplomats have visited Turkey since the conflict began, and in early April Washington and Ankara launched a strategic mechanism to boost economic and defence cooperation. "The launch of the mechanism is certainly a prelude to a more constructive era in the relationship," Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe, tells Al-Monitor.
US-Turkey ties deteriorated markedly after Ankara acquired Russia's S-400 missile system. As a consequence, the US administration expelled Turkey from the F-35 fighter programme. It is precisely this point that continues to create controversy between the two countries. "Their current positions are totally disparate," Ulgen noted. "Both sides will have to show flexibility on this issue," he adds.
The war is being waged between two countries that account for a third of global wheat exports. Russia and Ukraine are also major exporters of maize and sunflower oil, especially in some countries in the MENA region (North Africa and the Middle East). Because of this heavy dependence, this area is likely to be the most affected in terms of food. Egypt, in particular, is already feeling the consequences of the war on the price of basic foodstuffs such as bread. According to Reuters, last May, the price of bread in Egypt rose by up to 25%, while the price of flour rose by 15%.
However, this situation is replicated in other countries that import high percentages of Russian and Ukrainian wheat, such as Lebanon and Tunisia. As a result, experts fear a new wave of protests in the most affected countries. "Inflation and the economy, rather than political freedom, are key," Kamal Alam, a member of the Atlantic Council, told CNBC. He recalls the social unrest that led to the massive protests of the Arab Spring. "One would say that the first and foremost reason for unrest in the Arab world is always the lack of economic mobility," he adds.