The tragedy of the war in Ukraine

The spectre of armoured vehicles (not all of them are ‘tanks’) grinding across the roads of Europe to prosecute a hot war, of refugees carrying their belongings with them along roads jammed with civilian vehicles, seems somehow out of date to me, echoing grainy monochrome newsreel footage from another century. And yet, here it is. The first openly territorial war in Europe since 1939.

There can be no justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. War is an all-encompassing dark side of the human condition that engulfs populations, and right now, the people of Ukraine, who did not ask for war and do not want it, are suffering the torments of hell. It is a tragedy of the worst kind. And as with all wars it seems so unnecessary.

A beautiful picture of Earth from 1.6 million km sunwards. NASA, public domain.

I guess Russian action against Ukraine has been on the cards for a while, but what surprised me was that, to all appearances, the build-up of the past few months was the usual posturing around which the international system usually works – an effort to push both Ukraine and the rest of the world into buckling by means of sabre-rattling. After all, the international system is meant to work on reason and rational calculation – isn’t it? Actually going to war is a fast track to becoming an international pariah and a quick road to ruinous cost in both lives and money. Besides which, dragging Ukraine into the Russian fold by force will simply lead to the usual outcome of police-state enforcement in which the Ukrainian people will, again, suffer.

Now the monster has been unleashed, and it won’t be easily put back into its box. Just to add spice to the calculation, it also seems the world is staring once again down the barrel of possible nuclear war, essentially for the first time in thirty years. Into this mix we also have to factor the likely economic effects for the global economy of both this war and of the sanctions by the west against Russia. The Russian economy is tiny – Russian GDP in 2020 was $1.43 trillion: for comparison, that of California alone was $3.35 trillion at the same time. Losing Russia isn’t an issue of itself. However, because of the way systems are interlinked, there are costs even to closing Russia’s part in the SWIFT system. Also, Russia holds aces that include control of Europe’s natural gas supply. Meanwhile Ukraine – despite having an economy about half the size of New Zealand’s by 2021 figures – holds a significant part of world wheat and agrarian production. They are also the world’s second largest producer of gallium, with germanium, manganese and titanium resources among other rare elements that our high-tech society demands.

The point is that the global ‘financial markets’ – the stocks, shares and money traders – don’t react to reality: they respond to rumour or even rumoured talk of possible rumour, like frightened reef fish starting at the imagined possibility of a shadow. Real events aren’t necessary to send the edifice crashing, and the world is ripe and ready for an enduring depression thanks to the way the General Financial Crisis of 2007-10 was ‘resolved’ (ask me in the comments). The last thing the global system needs is war. But that is what has happened, and outcomes will almost certainly be volatile oil and commodity prices, with flow-on effects globally.

Right now the world’s priority has to be standing by the people of Ukraine and bringing a swift and negotiated end to the war – a call which, I have no doubt, will fall on deaf ears in the Kremlin. The nuclear standoff means that direct supporting action such as declaring a no-fly zone over Ukraine and enforcing it with NATO aircraft is off the table. But sanctions are another matter. Hopefully Putin will see reason. Of course, history tells me that wars seldom end as a result of reason. But one always lives in hope.

I cannot close without mentioning Jinjer, a Ukrainian prog-metal group whose bass player Eugene Abdukhanov has made a heartfelt call for all their fans – including those in Russia – and for all the world generally, to support Ukraine in their struggle against the aggressors. As we must.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2022

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6 thoughts on “The tragedy of the war in Ukraine

  1. Whoa…how? How on earth does a little slip of a girl sound like 60 cigarette a day guy???
    Sorry Matthew, your post about the situation in Ukraine is no laughing matter but I’m still gobsmacked by Jinjer’s lead singer.
    I read recently that Russia is a ‘creditor’ country, meaning it’s owed money by other countries, including the US. According to the article I read, this means that sanctions will hurt but won’t be utterly crippling. Do you know how realistic this is???

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    1. As I understand it, it’s the application of vocal fry techniques. Diaphragm control and ability to exhale slowly while vibrating the soft palate. As I understand it this requires proper training and is pretty much the antithesis of coloratura, all essentially in order to sound like Cookie Monster! Jinjer’s singer, Tatiana Schmailyuk, has incredible control of the technique – in other songs she can flip between this and normal singing within phrases. Most of the other bands I follow use separate vocalists.

      I believe that yes, the sanctions won’t cripple Putin and his cronies too much. Energy exports and the debt flows are enough to keep him going no matter how the Russian people suffer. The whole scenario worries me because, thanks to the nuclear standoff, the west can’t risk a hot war with Russia. So unlike late 1930s Europe, where the west finally did go to war over Hitler, Putin could well be able to get what he wants.

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      1. I’ve never heard of ‘vocal fry’ before but it is amazing. Thanks for the explanation coz I really was blown away.

        I heard on the news again tonight that NATO won’t agree to a no-fly zone. I understand the rationale behind that decision, but if it’s really because of the threat of a hot war, then realistically no country in Europe is safe because the same threat can apply to them. Where the heck will it /stop/?

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      2. The War is Ukraine is grinding Putin’s capacity to wage future wars against Russia’s neighbors. Why? We need to accept that whether Putin says it or not, Russia is lacking a true market economy. When have you seen Russian products been widely sold in America or in Europe? Russian cars find market only in a limited section of Europe, generally in small countries such as Armenia, Albania, Slovenia, etc, The Rubble does not move the way the dollar does and believe it or not, Russia’s influence is regional. Now, each day the Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine without concluding this conflict they are losing, meanwhile Ukraine is winning the propaganda war. The Ukraine conflict is economically eroding Russia day by day by making them spend valuable resources that they are no regenerating and will take them years to replace, equipment and personnel wise. Moreover, making matters worse, the economic sanctioning will deep Russia more and more in a conflict that will be difficult to get away from. Putin has lost control and is shown in his effort to conclude this erroneous episode that is showing His Achilles Talon. This conflict has shown three things, Russian economic system is not as strong as the west thought, Russian military and its planners are not mighty as previously thought, and Putin for sure is not the intelligence genius the west thought he was.

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  2. I find the Russian invasion of Ukraine a terrible blight on Putin. Is Putin trying to emulate Hitler If this despot succeeds where is the next country he has in his sights. The USA has caused so much hatred by their bullying warmongering tactics in Korea, Vietnam, then Iraq and Lybia mostly orchestrated by the two US war criminals the senior and Junior Bush brigade. Pull your heads in you boofheads and let the people of the world alone

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