Russia and Ukraine's war has hindered international efforts to create a world order based on standards and highlighted the need to pay more attention to dangers to territorial sovereignty and a safe and rules-based international system.
The Ukraine crisis has also impacted several other areas, such as food and energy security as well as international security. The war has unmasked many strategic trends where geopolitics plays a significant role.
Since February 24 2022, the war has changed the crux of many strategic issues. The next sections will shed light on the strategic trends that the world is experiencing in the second year of the war.
In the beginning, back in February 2022, Russian military forces entered Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, and Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city, with the intention of overthrowing President Volodymyr Zelensky's government and securing their influence over the region.
Following this, Russian soldiers attacked in a southern direction and seized control of the Kherson area, including its capital, to safeguard the Ukrainian coastline. Subsequently, in August, Ukraine began a counteroffensive in the Kherson region, using Western-made weaponry such as HIMARS to target Russian military installations. They also bombed a Russian airbase in Crimea.
Counteroffence by Ukraine
Ukraine initiated an attack to recapture a significant portion of the northern Kharkiv region and ultimately gained control of the conflict. They also regained control of Lyman in the Donetsk Province.
In October, the Kerch Strait Bridge, connecting Crimea with Russia, was attacked in an explosion, significantly portraying Crimea's importance in the war.
In November, Russian forces withdrew from Kherson and moved towards the eastern bank of the Dnipro River due to mounting military pressure. As a result, Ukraine regained control of the Kherson area.
Despite the fighting taking place throughout the country, the conflict remained at a stalemate. But amidst all these, being one of the major military powers, Russia still maintains a significant hold on the war while the western powers supply newer weapons.
There are significant reasons why it is important to discuss the strategic trends of the Ukraine war. First, the violence has caused serious humanitarian issues, such as casualties, displaced people, and infrastructural damage. Second, the battle has wider geopolitical repercussions, especially regarding the rivalry between Russia and Western nations. Thirdly, if the war worsens, it could destabilise a larger portion of the region. And last, the conflict has had a tremendous economic impact on Ukraine and the rest of the area. Hence the paper will assess the strategic trends of the war since it steps in the second year.
The growing militarisation of Ukraine and the world is the most prominent trend of the war. Sweden and Finland want to raise their defence budget. Meanwhile, the US announces US$ 400 million in new weapons aid to Ukraine, including ammunition and tactical bridges.
Germany equips Ukraine with SurveilSPIRE systems to keep an eye out on Russian troops after providing IRIS-T and Leopard-2 MBTs. EU intends to spend US$ 1 billion on howitzer shells for Ukraine.
To combat Russia, Ukraine urgently asks for artillery rounds, and Europe wants to ensure its funding is properly directed to those rounds. Besides, the US is deploying 31 Abrams tanks, the UK is delivering 14, Germany is deploying 14, and the US is supplying 14 Challenger 2 tanks. In other areas of the world, militarisation witnessed a surge.
Middle East rising as energy hub
Another significant trend from the Ukraine crisis is the shift towards the Middle East in the energy domain. Skyrocketing oil and fuel prices have been observed, with developing nations seeking new energy sources to meet their needs.
Saudi Arabia's oil sales total US$ 326 billion, the most in ten years. The kingdom's crude oil exports increased by 800,000 b/d year over year due to record Saudi crude oil production of 10.57 million barrels per day for 2022.
According to data from data intelligence company Kpler, crude exports last year exceeded 7 million barrels per day for the first time since 2017 (excluding Saudi Arabia's 50 per cent share of the Partitioned Neutral Zone).
There has also been a growing significance of coal and an increased nuclearisation trend. Some discrete states, such as Germany, have been leaning towards coal as a change in their energy policy. These changes in the energy domain have significant implications for the global economy and international relations.
The Ukraine crisis has also disrupted grain and fertiliser exports from Ukraine and Belarus, respectively, leading to price hikes that have mostly affected developing states. This has caused inflation in some regions, leading to growing food insecurity concerns.
The crisis has also resulted in increased militarisation in the Black Sea, with Turkey emerging as a middle power and the growing significance of the Mediterranean as a region of interest.
Other refugee crises ignored
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has overshadowed other refugee crises globally, as the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), 3.8 million, and refugees in the region continues to increase. The slow growth of China and other emerging economies, as well as the division among EU members, have added to the situation's complexities.
However, the growing importance of NATO as a net security provider and the unified efforts of South Asia have provided some hope for a resolution.
Cybersecurity getting the focus
Another trend that emerged from the Ukraine crisis is the growing importance of cybersecurity. The conflict has highlighted the vulnerability of critical infrastructure, and there have been several cyberattacks on Ukraine's power grid and other essential systems. As a result, there is a growing need for better cybersecurity measures and international cooperation in this domain.
The Ukraine crisis has also had implications for global security, with the emergence of a new arms race between Russia and the West. There has been an increase in military spending, with both sides developing new weapons systems and modernising their existing ones. This has led to concerns about a new Cold War and potential nuclear conflict.
Multi-poler world order in the making
After years of double-digit growth, China has the second-largest military budget in the world. The nation's defence expenditure for 2022 was 1.45 trillion yuan (US$ 229.6 billion), 7.1% more than the year before. According to SIPRI data, Japan's defence spending increased by 7.3 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year. South Korea and India also increased during this time period by 4.7 per cent and 0.9 per cent, respectively.
A national defence budget for the current fiscal year that is anticipated to total about US$ 858 billion is on pace to receive final approval from the US Congress in the upcoming week, which is US$ 45 billion more than what President Biden had asked for.
The Ukraine crisis also had implications for the Indo-Pacific region, as territorial aggression became a possibility in areas such as the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait. The support of China for Russia raised speculation about the fate of Taiwan, while allies and partners of the US chose a variety of policy responses. Some countries, like Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, joined the US-led campaign against Russian aggression, while others, like India, maintained a balanced approach.
The Ukraine war also had implications for the European Union, which faced division among its members over how to respond to Russian aggression. The conflict highlighted the need for a more unified approach to security and foreign policy and the importance of NATO as a net security provider.
The emergence of a more unified South Asia also reflected the growing recognition of the need for regional stability and cooperation.
However, the world was multipolar before the Ukrainian War, with developing nations like Bangladesh, Brazil, and India on the rise. The rise of China and a revisionist Russia under Vladimir Putin, however, has recently jeopardised the United States' unipolar international system. As a result, the conflict in Ukraine is a manifestation of the United States' overarching strategy to thwart the rise of China and Russia and revive transatlantic cooperation.
The ongoing Ukraine issue is causing a split across the world, an arms race, a rise in militarism, and a return to the neo-cold war.
Significance of middle power
Besides, Turkey's support for a grain agreement between Russia and Ukraine highlights the growing significance of 'middle powers' in a multipolar world. International politics has become perplexing as a result of the problem of picking sides and the ambiguous sentiments of the leading nations.
Political experts claim that different countries' various answers and actions in response to the Ukraine issue show off their individual and regional differences, which were made clear by their words and actions during the General Assembly. It might be clear how the Ukraine war has divided the world. Different responses have come from people in Africa, Turkey, the Middle East, and various South American nations.
Markedly, the European strategy for cooperation and rivalry with China has not changed. The West's perception of Russia is getting worse. Russia is being pushed toward China as a result. Therefore, China is making an effort to maintain its outstanding connections with Saudi Arabia and Iran, which will benefit China in adjusting to the changes.
Iran wants to deepen strategic connections with China and Russia, which are changing the security postures of the KSA and Israel, to resist pressure from the West. This trend will persist. There is no indication that the hostilities between Iran and Israel, and the Gulf States will ease.
Amidst all these, the developing states' sufferings should be considered. Without having any major stake in the war, they are the real sufferers both in terms of economy and politics with diplomacy.
The strategic shifts in world politics make their position vulnerable since they are passing the development phase. The states should deal with the strategic issues clearly since many countries are gaining from the situation. Developing states should focus on that.
Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs.