Civilians fleeing the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks.

Credit: Daniel Berehulak / The New York Times - Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The wider implications of the Ukraine crisis

30 March 2022
Author: Nic Hailey

It can be hard right now to look beyond the tragedy inside Ukraine. But the consequences are already being felt far more widely.

Here are five wider concerns as the Ukraine crisis continues. 

The impact of sanctions on the region’s economies

Central Asia’s economies, heavily dependent on Russia, have been hit hard as sanctions on Russia bite.  Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers were already coming home from Russia during the pandemic, and that trend is now accentuated. Their remittances would normally make up around a third of GDP in places like Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan.  The impact on families dependent on this source of income is huge.

Food and energy prices are rocketing across Central Asia, with tumbling currencies closely linked to the ruble exacerbating the issue. The South Caucasus faces the same challenges, with some areas almost entirely dependent on Russia’s economy and banking system.

The risk of further violence in the post-Soviet space

Frustrations and anti-government sentiment have long simmered in much of Central Asia, with little civil society space for grievances to be aired. The economic crisis adds to the pressures on social cohesion. Kazakhstan had already seen an outbreak of violence in early January.  

Social and political polarisations – such as pro- and anti-Russia sentiment – are sharpened across much of the region by reactions to the conflict in Ukraine. 

Violence could escalate in the Nagorny Karabakh context, where Russia has a peacekeeping force.

Sexual and gender-based violence risks are high for the women and children fleeing Ukraine, in Ukraine itself where responses to the conflict are highly gendered, and across the region, as migrant workers return jobless to households they had previously supported.

Conflict risks in the humanitarian response

The humanitarian response for those fleeing Ukraine, or displaced within it, is massive, impressive, and much-needed.  

Ukrainians are fleeing a country that has been dealing with conflict since 2014.  Tensions within and between communities move as those communities do. Perceptions of how aid is distributed – by whom and to whom - will have a big impact on tensions and conflict risks among refugee populations. 

Ukrainian NGOs have long experience working to strengthen social cohesion in their communities and should be central to international support.

Moldova needs particular focus here. By far the lowest-income host country for those fleeing West from Ukraine, it has warmly welcomed large numbers of refugees. It is likely to see another large influx if Russian forces occupy Odesa, just across its border, and on which Moldova relies for much of its trade.  

Moldova has its own conflict risks and is operating under a state of emergency, and risks being further destabilised. Struggles for scarcer resources could also spark tensions between refugees and host communities. Conflict-sensitive humanitarian work will remain vital.

Global impact

The impact of the crisis in Ukraine is also global. Prices are rising for basic foodstuffs like wheat and cooking oil, for which Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers. Governments already hard-hit by the pandemic have little fiscal space to respond via subsidies to mitigate rising prices. 

In Lebanon, for example, four-fifths of the population relies on bread for food security. Protests over bread prices have long fuelled instability in places like Sudan. 

Humanitarian actors find the costs of basic provisions increasing sharply at a time when donors risk moving funding away from some of the world’s most acute hunger emergencies – in places like Yemen – to meet needs driven by Ukraine. More people may die from violence or hunger, fuelled by these types of factors, in other countries than in Ukraine itself.

All of this is central to the case we have been making to the UK and other governments: help for Ukraine must come not at the expense of work elsewhere, but in addition to it. The extraordinary generosity of people in the UK and elsewhere has shown governments the way forward.

What needs to be done

It's not just governments, but also our own organisations that need to respond to the new context that Ukraine has set. The vast Eurasian region - what used to be known as the former Soviet Union - has had little international attention in recent years. It desperately needs that now, to support economies and bolster the networks of civil society which can prevent conflict from spreading, keeping open a space for peaceful recovery. 

Proven approaches to sexual and gender-based violence can and should be scaled up there too. And we need to live up to our words about the need for peacebuilding and humanitarian response to work as one. 

Lastly, amid all this, we need to keep making the case for a global response to a series of global emergencies. Even before February, one in 95 people was displaced by conflict or crisis – a record number, and a harrowing one.  

The majority of people living in extreme poverty globally are in fragile and conflict-affected states, with numbers of the extremely poor there continuing to grow, despite remarkable progress in more stable places.  

As former foreign secretary David Miliband pointed out last December, 20 countries, all in conflict, represented almost 90% of global humanitarian need, three-quarters of IDPs and four-fifths of refugees and asylum-seekers. Ukraine has tragically added to those numbers.

What is happening in Ukraine is a desperate reminder of the fragility of our world, and the need to centre fragility and peacebuilding in everything we do.

About the author

Nic Hailey
International Alert

Nic is executive director at International Alert