Shortly before dawn on 24 February, President Putin addressed the Russian nation, announcing the start of a “special operation” targeting Ukraine. Behind this term, it is an invasion : Russian troops have entered Ukraine and are going westwards. Intense bombing has hit the country, in L’viv, Kiev, Mariupol, Odessa, Kherson and Kharkiv, among others. To date, almost two million Ukrainians have fled the country, mostly to neighbouring Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Moldova. This humanitarian crisis comes on top of the political, economic, social and health crisis that the country has been experiencing since the Maidan revolution in 2013, which preceded the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the secession of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, whose independence Russia recently recognised. Russia intends to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and the European Union. Ukrainian President Zelenski is calling on the international community, and particularly NATO member countries, to help Ukraine, which for the moment is mainly in the form of arms and equipment deliveries.
Sanctions against Russia
Immediately after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, the international community, and especially the European Union and the United States, imposed very heavy sanctions against both personalities close to the Kremlin, such as members of the Russian government, President Putin, oligarchs close to him, parliamentarians from the United Russia party, and even certain companies.
Russian airlines are now banned from flying over European space.
Nevertheless, the scope of the sanctions is not unanimous among the members of the European Union, as some countries are highly dependent on Russian hydrocarbons, particularly gas (Germany, Austria, Italy). The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany has been frozen.
The effect of the sanctions, which are very strong because they aim to place Russia outside the international community, is likely to be mitigated by the fact that in recent years Russia has strengthened its economic autarky to be increasingly independent economically from its trade with the European Union. It seems very difficult for Europe to do without Russian hydrocarbons in the immediate future, as the infrastructure is not ready yet. Finally, many Western companies have ceased their activities in Russia.
As a result of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine crisis, inflation remains at very high levels in Europe. Eurostat forecasts 3.5% inflation in the Eurozone for 2022. However, these forecasts could be revised upwards after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, particularly with regard to energy and food consumer goods prices (especially pasta): the current situation of instability is having a strong influence on gas and wheat prices, as Russia produces a lot of gas and both Ukraine and Russia produce a lot of wheat. Some regions of the world, notably North Africa, could quickly find themselves in a situation of critical food insecurity if Russian supplies could not be delivered.
With the Ukrainian crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and more specifically its Omicron wave, is slowly fading from the European news. Many countries had already abolished most restrictions by February. Italy and France are due to do so in March, on 31st and 14th of March respectively. The pandemic is increasingly seen by European countries as an endemic disease that will become less dangerous and less lethal over time. The question now is whether there will be an economic recovery in a Europe that is over-indebted and economically hard hit by restrictive measures, even though war is once again coming to Europe.