The military conflict involving Kiev and Moscow has been making the headlines of various news outlets all over the world. This Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict officially started when current Russian president Vladimir Putin recognized two people’s republics located in Eastern Ukraine, which are Luhansk and Donetsk. Collectively, they are grouped together as the Donbas region, where residents in these areas are said to be sympathetic towards the Russians. Kremlin-backed media emphasize that these incursions involve conducting “special military operations”. On the other hand, western-backed media label these operations as an “invasion”, where Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are being tested. Nevertheless, losses in human lives are mounting, economic damage is exponentially increasing, and political uncertainty in Eurasia is looming.
The effects of the Ukrainian crisis are felt beyond these Slavic nation-states. Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are providing various military hardware such as precision-guided missiles, and are also extending different kinds of assistance to elements confronting the Russian armed forces. Liberal democracies are slapping numerous economic sanctions against Russia and Russian oligarchs, where countries that are geographically distant from Eastern Europe like Japan, South Korea, and Singapore have joined the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States in denouncing and punishing such aggression. Multinational companies have also suspended their services, further isolating Moscow and restricting access to the international markets. All of these has made Russia the most heavily sanctioned country on the planet.
This brewing conflict entails geopolitical factors related to Ukraine and Russia. First would be Russia’s security concerns as NATO membership expands. Right before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, then-General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and then-President George HW Bush had verbally agreed that NATO will end at Germany’s borders. However, NATO has gradually extended its membership to Warsaw Pact countries, successor countries of Yugoslavia, and even to other Soviet Socialist Republics previously aligned with Kremlin. Extending such membership to Kiev would therefore threaten Moscow, as its own political survival would be questioned once American ballistic missiles are menacingly stationed nearby. Second would be about the Crimean peninsula and the port city of Sevastopol, since it is strategically located in the Black Sea, where Russians can extend their influence to the Mediterranean Sea. Crimea was later annexed in 2014 under the pretext of protecting Russian citizens. With this annexation, Kiev has halted water flow to the peninsula, making Crimea experience drier seasons while putting the welfare of its local residents at risk. Lastly, hydrocarbons have been discovered and can be extracted in three separate regions of Ukraine, which are in Ukraine’s west, east, and in the south imbedded under the Black Sea. Initially, these resources were difficult to extract, but with the advent of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, Kiev can access gas and oil, which it can export to the Europeans. Fearing such economic competition that would lower Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels, eliminating potential competitors through predatory military tactics would work in favor of Moscow’s interests by maintaining its market share.
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With those factors enumerated, global markets have trembled, adversely affecting both wealthy and poor countries. Knowing that modern-day living is backed by these hydrocarbons and with political volatility inviting economic uncertainty, the prices of crude oil and other petroleum-related commodities continue to skyrocket. In addition, both Ukraine and Russia export billions of dollars worth of wheat, a key food resource. These two situations would definitely generate a cost-push inflation in any economy, harming the most marginalized sectors of the society. Other businesses would attempt to adapt by adopting stealth inflation, where the price stays the same but the product’s gross weight is lessened. Conclusively, consumers’ purchasing power is diminished, leading to a possible deterioration of living standards. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable Filipinos will continue experiencing these economic hardships.
On social media, Filipino netizens strongly denounce Russia’s aggressive military actions, even though it is noticeable that a significant majority of them have virtually no background on the subject matter of Russian affairs. Numerous Filipinos would rather take the moral high ground and create labels. One particularly popular one is of the Russian strongman as reincarnation of the vilified Nazi Germany’s Fuhrer. They come up with these without comprehending the underlying dynamics of European politics. This is a reflection of how the Catholic church’s teachings have penetrated the Filipino psyche, creating more gullible victims of false dichotomies instead of a populace capable of critical thinking.
Taking a look at the Philippine’s colonial history under American administration, the liberal school of thought in international relations had also made its way to the Filipino intelligentsia through Wilsonianism. This can be traced to when then-US President Woodrow Wilson convinced American legislators to join hands with imperialist Britain and France in fighting Wilhelmine Germany, which resulted to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the establishment of the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations. However, the idealist nature of the Wilsonian thought fails to explain these events associated with the Ukrainian crisis, most specially that United Nations (UN) resolutions raised in the security council and the general assembly condemning acts of violence are virtually toothless. It must be viewed in accordance with realism because nation-states act rationally in serving their interests.
Realism entails the realpolitik of nations, of what is practical and what is pragmatic. In foreign relations, recognizing these interests is direly needed before taking a stand that may either run congruent or contradict with popular public opinion. This stands true since the language of diplomacy is dialogue and concessions serve as its currency. Looking back at the Philippine setting, what do we think of our country’s realpolitik, specially in foreign policy? Citing the three pillars of Philippine foreign policy, which are national security, economic security, and assistance to nationals, what do we think is there for the Philippines in this Ukrainian crisis, and how can these international issues be turned to opportunities? That is only something that the next chief architect of Philippine foreign policy can decide on.
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a renowned Soviet academician, mentioned in his book entitled “Russian Crossroads” how former US President Richard Nixon described himself and his Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger as “sons of bitches” in promoting and defending America’s national interests. Nixon’s choice of words might be crass, but it completely reflects the country’s need to adopt pragmatic and amoral policies in enforcing its national interests. Political scientists might use the word Machiavellian, but statesmen are meant to create a peaceful and prosperous environment for all the residents to enjoy.
With the Philippine general elections ending in a couple of months, Filipino voters cannot afford to be swindled anymore. Instead, the electorate ought to choose candidates who know no fear when labelled as “sons or daughters of bitches” in the name of Philippine interests.
A no one who enjoys the fun things of life in private.
A believer of freedom, capitalism, and conservative brand of politics.
A no one who cares less about popular public opinion.
A believer that life can be better, if every one is a tad more responsible.