Why—and how—to end the Russia-Ukraine war

File photo of Ukrainian soldiers. The war must come to an early end, to focus on growth, climate resilience and halting mass regress to poverty. Photo: Reuters
File photo of Ukrainian soldiers. The war must come to an early end, to focus on growth, climate resilience and halting mass regress to poverty. Photo: Reuters


  • The war has created a global loop of crises involving food, energy and climate. All this misery is avoidable—with an equal loss of face.  

It is welcome that the UN, along with Turkey, has brokered a deal to resume the export of Ukrainian and Russian wheat and fertiliser, whose absence from the world market had ramped up food prices and threatens starvation in countries that depend on the UN’s World Food Programme for their daily bread. That, however, offers only limited respite. For a world still staggering under the burden of recovery from the pandemic and staring, with dread, at the possibility of monkeypox, the war must come to an early end, to focus on growth, climate resilience and halting mass regress to poverty.

Energy prices had been edging up even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. Since then, prices have shot up, both due to uncertainty and the cutback on sourcing hydrocarbons and coal from Russia, announced by the US and its European allies. Natural gas prices have remained volatile since the onset of the war, aided by freak accidents at liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in the US and restriction of gas flows to Europe by Russia.

In order to make good on its resolve to reduce energy dependence on Russia, Europe has been scouring the world for LNG and coal, diverting supplies meant for Asia, thanks to its ability to pay higher prices. This has pushed up energy prices in general, across the world.

Once food and energy prices go up, demands crystallise for higher wages. Higher wages, when they materialize, spread price increases across the economy, along with higher transportation costs. When inflation goes up, central banks feel obliged to raise policy interest rates, and that, in turn, pushes up all lending rates and depresses capital markets.

When rates go up in the US, as they have, by one-and-a-half percentage points since March already and probably by another 0.75 percentage point this week, capital flees emerging markets, seeking safe deployment in US government bonds. This makes emerging market currencies lose value against the dollar. The depreciation of local currencies pushes up the local prices of energy, adding to inflation, rate revision and further dampening of economic activity, with default on external debt servicing that has turned more onerous, adding to mess.

The war aggravates the climate crisis as well. Europe now burns more coal and its dirtier cousin lignite than in the past decade in its attempt to cut down on Russian hydrocarbons. The people see forest fires ravaging southern Europe and their leaders’ political choices adding to the climate problem, which makes itself felt as forest fires and heat waves.

The impact has spread across the world. Sri Lanka sank into political turmoil. Pakistan, too, saw a change of government. Across Latin America, the people are restive. Combined with protracted drought, these developments cast the shadow of hunger on several African countries. Europe, too, is not immune to the disruptive effects of high prices: the government of Italy has fallen and xenophobic, nativist forces are on the rise across the continent. In the US as well, the Democrats are slated to do badly at the mid-term elections in November and right-wing populist Trump is on the ascendant again. The Democrats’ only hope is that the silent constituency of women would react to the ongoing move in Republican states to curtail their right to control their own bodies via a strong anti-abortion movement.

All this misery is avoidable. All that needs to happen is for the war to come to an end. That means every party must be willing to give up something in return for an end to the conflict. Russia must give up its goal, supposedly to "de-Nazify" Ukraine, to be achieved by removing Zelensky from the nation’s presidency. Ukraine should give up its Nato membership hopes, accept the status quo on Crimea, centuries-long home to Russia’s warm water naval force, negotiate for a significant financial and technical package to repair the war-damage and seek UN-mediated referenda in the regions east of the Dnieper river to test the Russian claim that their inhabitants prefer to be Russian citizens. The US and its western allies should stop using Ukraine as their tool to bleed Russia into geopolitical irrelevance and divert the resources now devoted to arming Ukraine to climate tech that can suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere—carbon dioxide removal (CDR), leading to negative emissions on the part of the rich world, is the only hope of preventing a rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this very decade itself.

India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa are in a position to take the lead to achieve such a conflict resolution, along with the parties already engaged in talking to both Russia and Ukraine, Turkey and the UN. The entire world wants peace to break out; the point is to work out a deal in which all parties lose face more or less in equal proportions, while resiling from their maximalist positions.

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