Lubov Chernukhin is a former investment banker born in the USSR and the largest female political donor in British history, having donated over £2 million to the Conservative Party.
The international humanitarian response to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has been inspirational. But despite the high tally in Ukrainian civilian casualties — now upward of 13,500 — British and European public attention is faltering.
People are beginning to view Ukraine as Russia’s Afghanistan 2.0 — a war that drones interminably on, prompting fatigue, the resultant “so it goes” mentality leading to international quasi-acceptance of ongoing events. However, this isn’t a war being fought beyond the Continent’s periphery — the barbarity is happening in the middle of Europe. Yet, as Ukrainians continue to die at the hands of the Russian army, the public focus is turning toward domestic issues, especially to the soaring cost of living.
And though it’s certainly not my intention to play down the severity of the current economic climate, the logic of prioritizing financial matters over the Ukrainian conflict is flawed.
According to data collected by NewsWhip, in recent months, digital engagement on issues relating to Ukraine has dropped dramatically. By the end of May, social media interactions on articles about Ukraine saw a 22-fold decrease compared to the start of the invasion, and the volume of stories published about Ukraine has similarly declined.
However, this reality overlooks the fact that today’s economic hardships and the war are inextricably linked. In the same way the Kremlin’s support for Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad contributed to an unprecedented refugee crisis in Europe in 2015, Russia’s leaders are now weaponizing energy to weaken Western resolve.
The most obvious way in which the Ukraine war has contributed to global inflation is through its impact on oil markets. It’s an inconvenient fact that, despite Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the European Union continued to depend on it for its energy needs and it made no provisions to decrease dependence on Russian liquid hydrocarbons over the last eight years.
In fact, despite warnings from the United States, the EU sponsored the Nord Stream II pipeline, increasing its dependence on Russian gas, and in the United Kingdom, we are now suffering due to this pre-war appeasement of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. Following the outbreak of war, things didn’t change either, and instead of standing against Russia as one gas purchasing block, setting terms and prices according to which it would be willing to import Russian gas under the sanctions regime, the bloc’s nations competed for Russian gas.
According to estimates, energy prices will now likely reach their highest levels since the 1970s. And only six months into this grotesque war, the G7 has begun taking steps to agree on a joint approach to at least limit the price of Russian oil, largely thanks to pressure from U.S. President Joe Biden.
Russia has clearly benefited from these soaring prices, which it manufactured itself. The EU has spent an estimated €87 billion on Russian coal, oil and gas since the invasion. By comparison, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, since the start of war, the West has given $17.5 billion of aid to Ukraine, and so far, the EU has provided only €2.5 billion of a promised €9 billion.
Meanwhile, food prices are also rising. Russia has become one of the world’s largest wheat producers, and while it exports mostly to Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, transportation problems caused by sanctions have driven wheat prices upward.
Since the fall of the USSR, Russia had been welcomed as a member of the international trading community, even joining the World Trade Organization in 2012. This trust was misplaced.
While sanctions have thrown the Russian economy back decades, make no mistake that the country’s leadership is counting on the West suffering — hence its decision to shut down gas flows, and the Kremlin’s announcement on Monday that Russia won’t resume gas supplies to Europe until Western sanctions are lifted.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Despite continued sabotage from Russian forces, Ukraine’s grain corridor did reopen earlier this summer, and over 1 million tons of agricultural products have since been exported from the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the target is to reach 3 million tons of exports by sea every month, which has now begun to ease some of the pressure on food supply.
We are also witnessing the birth of a truly European nation in Ukraine. Like a phoenix, it is rising from the ashes ,and with Western help, it’s inflicting pain on its aggressor. Despite high oil and gas prices, Russian tax collection has fallen by an average of 30 percent, its exports by as much as 66 percent, and its economy is contracting. It’s also expected that Russian troops will face a severe shortage of ammunition by the year’s end.
The effect of our support is tangible, and we must persevere.
The Ukraine war isn’t an isolated crisis — it’s an issue that will continue to impact us all until Russian forces are withdrawn or expelled from Ukraine. Western war fatigue in Britain, and elsewhere in Europe, must be resisted, not only for the sake of Ukraine but for the restoration of transnational economic health and international rule of law.
Pressure on the Kremlin cannot be eased, and the onus is on politicians — including Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss — and the business community to be united against this military and economic aggression, and to end our dependence on Russian commodities.
Meanwhile, it is on international media to hold their governments to account, and keep their coverage of the war flowing.