The End, the Beginning
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A week ago, Russia began bombing Ukraine. Seven days later, it’s a different world.
That’s because in that week, as massively outgunned Ukrainians put up fierce resistance, nations around the world have moved to express outrage in ways big and small, turning the tables on Russia and putting it under siege.
From biting financial sanctions to the removal of Russian vodka from store shelves, to the shunning of Russian businesses and joint ventures, musicians and artists, media and athletes – and diplomats – it’s become a world where a major power has become a pariah, isolated and scorned.
Countries in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region have not only signed up to sanctions but banned Russian planes and moved to send money and arms to Ukraine. As the Japanese government offered millions in loans, ordinary Japanese people raised $17 million in donations for the country in just days. Aid for Ukraine in cryptocurrency surpassed $30 million on Thursday, Time reported. And thousands have come out in protests across Europe and the US but also in South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar and Taiwan. Even pro-Russia Brazil condemned the invasion along with Chile, Colombia and Argentina.
Some countries have made radical changes to longtime policy that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago, upending post-Cold War era paradigms that have reigned supreme for three decades. For example, Finland and Sweden, long neutral because of their proximity to Russia, are openly considering NATO membership and are sending arms and funds to Ukraine, drawing threats from Vladimir Putin, ABC News wrote.
Switzerland, which has clung to its neutrality for centuries and is a haven for Russian business and assets not only because of its strict banking secrecy laws, broke that longstanding tradition and imposed sanctions mirroring that of the EU, the Financial Times explained. The country, like Germany and others in Europe, did so at a huge cost to itself: It is dependent on Russian energy to fuel its homes and industry.
And Germany, with its WWII legacy and its close business ties to Russia, doubled its defense budget overnight, canceled a key gas pipeline project with Russia, and for the first time in 70 years, said it would ship arms directly into a conflict. The new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, once a leftist youth leader who complained about NATO imperialism, is overseeing a seismic shift mirrored in the German public: Thousands have marched in support of Ukraine and 78 percent support a massive increase in defense spending, a recent poll showed.
Meanwhile, in a sign of the fear and fury that the invasion inspired within the EU, the usually slow-moving, divided bloc managed to overnight to issue its harshest sanctions in its history, cutting off Russian banks from the SWIFT financial transaction infrastructure, sanctioning its central bank, finance ministry and sovereign wealth fund and seizing state and private assets in an effort to “bring about the collapse of the Russian economy,” as Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said bluntly.
Eastern Europeans, long fretting over their security because of the Soviet Union’s post-war domination and also geographic proximity, felt like they were getting whiplash as they looked on these changes in disbelief, the Washington Post reported.
“It’s the end of an era…What you grew up in, the last 30 years, is over,” said former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who explained how he was used to being dismissed by other EU leaders as paranoid over his fears of Russia. “The situation on the ground has led countries to understand neither Biden nor the East Europeans were crazy.”
And as world leaders moved to punish Russia, so did business and individuals. Some of the world’s biggest companies – Exxon, Adidas, H&M and GM to name a few of a long and growing list – pulled out of Russia in the past week, said Business Insider. The Ukrainians even managed to shame Big Tech into falling into line after it initially held onto its mantle of neutrality: Apple stopped selling in Russia Tuesday following moves by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google to shut down Russian state channels and other measures after years of appeasing tyrants abroad, Wired reported. Meanwhile, Elon Musk agreed to provide satellite coverage for communications after being tweeted by Ukrainian officials as concerns grew about the country’s communications infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Hollywood studios have canceled premiers of films in Russia, bands such as Green Day have canceled concerts. Eurovision cut Russian contestants out of its competition, while the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, among other sporting organizations have frozen Russian athletes. Tours of Russia have been canceled, “sister cities” have broken up.
At the same time, Russia’s friends – Cuba, Venezuela, China, India and others – have mumbled quietly about respecting borders and expressing hope for a quick end to the conflict. China on Wednesday made its strongest protest in defense of Russia yet when it complained about the sanctions against Russia, the New York Times reported. Still, analysts say it is unlikely China will violate sanctions and rescue Russia’s economy, which has been badly damaged by sanctions in its first week, the Economist noted. Its business interests in the West are too important.
The outpouring over Ukraine and the economic weapons unleashed against Russia doesn’t mean a change in the course of the war. While Ukrainians have done startling damage to Russian tanks and killed or captured hundreds of enemy soldiers, analysts say Russia is just getting started – and learning from its mistakes. On Wednesday, it won its first trophy after it captured the regional capital of Khersen. Its advance has already captured smaller towns and according to Ukrainian sources, killed more than 2,000 people while sending a million more pouring over the borders into Poland and other countries in the largest exodus of European refugees the continent has seen in decades.
And while more peace talks are likely in the near future, it’s unlikely that either Ukraine or Russia will back down anytime soon. That means where the conflict is headed – and its repercussions on the world – is anyone’s guess. But one thing is clear, the Atlantic noted: “The world is not the same today as it was last week…there will be no full reversion to the global status quo ante.”
In a week, an era has ended.