Global Attention Wanes and Economic Sanctions Falter as Ukrainian Invasion Enters Third Year

Photo via Atlantic CTV/Derek Haggett 

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As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third year, a global lack of attention and economic struggles continue to threaten Ukraine’s safety and sovereignty. 

While no outside nations have declared war on Russia, many countries have taken clear sides since the invasion began in February 2022. The United States has sent roughly $75 billion in aid to Ukraine, including over $23 billion in weapons and military equipment. The European Union and member states have sent nearly $100 billion  over the course of the war. With the aid to Ukraine and the economic sanctions against Russia, Vladimir Putin has suffered financially over the last two years. The Russian economy has been oriented almost entirely towards defense spending at the expense of its citizens. While the country is a resource-laden stronghold and can domestically support itself in the short term, Russia is dependent on trade for long-term survival. 

Additionally, Russia’s reputation has suffered. The UN has repeatedly denounced the actions of the invading country, and the International Criminal Court has released warrants for the arrest of Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights. Europe has significantly reduced its consumption of fossil fuels from Russia—the country’s primary export—and has turned to more ethical and renewable sources instead. 

All of this would seem to spell good news: Russia is stalling, Ukraine is being aided, and legitimate legal action may be taken against Mr. Putin. However, this view of the war only accounts for major Western nations, and has been ignoring important forces that are keeping Russia afloat. Developing nations such as India, China, and Brazil have become the primary importers of Russian goods such as coal, oil, and oil products. These countries, particularly Brazil, have hesitated to take direct action against Russia, instead relying on peaceful negotiations. Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula said on a trip to Beijing, China, that the U.S. ought to “stop encouraging war and start talking about peace.” Is this pacifist attitude sincere? Or is Brazil—which has enjoyed purchasing Russian goods at steeply reduced rates over the past two years—just chasing money? 

While India, China, and Brazil have become important importers of Russian goods, other nations—such as the U.A.E., Turkey, and Armenia—who have not joined the U.S. sanctions regime are exporting goods, e.g. technology, directly to Russia. Countries such as China, North Korea, and Iran are also routinely supplying Russia with arms. The Russian economy has suffered, but it is recovering. In 2023, GDP was up 3.5% and there was a 7% increase in manufacturing. The uptick mostly reflects a surge in military production and spending, indicating that whatever impact Russia has felt from economic sanctions is either being offset by trade with other nations or being passed onto non-defense sectors (i.e., Russian citizens). 

The war in Ukraine has become a war of attrition. As time has moved on and the frontline has moved only minimally, global attention on the war has begun to fade. Coupled with the recent atrocities in Gaza, the plight of Ukraine has been put on the backburner for many. The routinization of the war has taken away from the emotional connection many initially felt with Ukraine. When the invasion began, there was a sense of immediacy—what happened to Ukraine could happen to all of Europe, and Russia is a severe threat that cannot be ignored. That emotional urgency has waned. The global loss of focus on Ukraine coupled with the economic shortcuts Russia has found in developing nations is allowing Russia to regain power. The war is not over, and Ukrainians are still suffering. 

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This article was edited by Brianna Budhram.