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Ten conflicts to watch in 2023

The aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is still being felt around the world, and it has set the stage for future large-scale violence.

by Sam
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Will he go through with it or not? This was the question last year at this time. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had dispatched nearly 200,000 troops to Ukraine’s borders. Russia, according to US intelligence agencies, was preparing for a full-fledged war. Everything pointed to an attack, except for one thing: it seemed impossible.
True, Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, and it practised an invasion in 2021 by stationing troops along the border and then withdrawing them. When Kiev did not comply with Putin’s demands, he appeared to become increasingly enraged. He mocked the Ukrainians’ national identity and sovereignty. When Russian forces finally arrived, it was shocking that a nuclear-armed nation would try to invade a neighbour for no apparent reason.
The war has caused significant damage in Ukraine, but it has also had a significant impact on the rest of the world.

So far, Russia’s situation has been extremely negative. So far, an offensive intended to take over Ukraine, weaken the West, and strengthen the Kremlin has had the opposite effect. It has boosted Ukrainian nationalism and brought Kyiv closer to Europe. It has instilled a new sense of purpose in organisations such as NATO. If Finland and Sweden join NATO, which appears likely, the balance of power in Northern Europe will shift dramatically, and Russia’s borders with NATO states will more than double in length. The war exposed flaws in Russia’s military that had been hidden by operations in Syria (2015) and Ukraine (2014 and 2015). It has demonstrated that the West is strong and capable, despite the fact that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were disasters (though admittedly, things might have been different had the United States been led by someone else) (though admittedly things might have been different had the United States been under other leadership).

But the war is far from over. Russia’s economy has adjusted to the Western sanctions. The Kremlin appears to be confident that Russia will survive. Moscow may still force a bad deal, setting a bad example for other places where people want to attack. If, on the other hand, Putin feels truly threatened by Ukrainian advances or other factors, it is not impossible that he will use a nuclear weapon as a last resort. Whatever happens in Ukraine, the West and Russia are likely only one wrong move away from a conflict.

The war has primarily been a burden for China. Despite the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping has publicly praised Putin and that trade between the two countries has helped Russia deal with sanctions, Beijing has done little else to assist Russia. Xi has not sent any weapons. He appears concerned about Putin’s issues and threats to use nuclear weapons. Beijing does not want to cause harm to Moscow, and it is unlikely that it will be able to force Putin to reach an agreement. It does not, however, want to enrage the West by assisting the invasion. It keeps a wary eye on US allies in Asia as they strengthen their defences and appear to want Washington to stay even longer, despite their continued desire for access to Chinese markets. Fears that China will attack Taiwan have grown as a result of the war. However, an invasion that Beijing deemed too dangerous in the near future even before the war appears even less likely now. China is aware of the harsh sanctions imposed on Russia. Moscow’s military failures aren’t either.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has not changed the fundamentals of the relationship between the United States and China, which will be the most important in the coming decades. When US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, Beijing was outraged, but a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Xi three months later gave people hope that they could talk again. Nonetheless, competition remains a component of both countries’ foreign policies. China will continue to try to take over Taiwan. Even though the world’s two largest economies remain linked, their technological ties are deteriorating.

The war demonstrated the strength and independence of non-Western middle powers. Turkey has long straddled the line between NATO membership and maintaining good relations with Moscow. It has now reached an agreement with the United Nations to transport Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea to global markets. The move follows years of Turkish assertiveness around the world, such as shifting the battleground in Libya and the South Caucasus and selling more drones. The abrupt disappearance of Russian oil from the market benefited Saudi Arabia. It compelled Biden to go there, despite his promise when he took office to avoid Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Riyadh and other oil producers decided to keep prices high, which infuriated Washington. India is a US security partner as well as a major buyer of Russian arms. It has purchased phoney Russian oil and chastised Putin for rattling his nuclear sabres. This is not an uncoordinated, random movement. However, activist middle powers believe they have room to go their own way, and while few people like a competition between big powers, they will seize the opportunities that multipolarity provides.

The war revealed where the nerves were frayed in other parts of the global south. The majority of non-Western capitals voted against Russia’s aggression at the United Nations General Assembly. Few, however, have publicly criticised or sanctioned Putin. There are numerous reasons to maintain relations with Moscow. There are, however, historical ties and reliance on Kremlin-affiliated mercenaries such as the Wagner Group. They do not want to participate in or pay for a conflict that many see as Europe’s problem. Frustration with the West also plays a role, whether it is due to COVID-19 vaccine stockpiling, migration policies, or climate injustice. Many people believe that being upset about Ukraine is unfair because of the West’s actions in other places and its history of colonisation. Many leaders in the global south believe that the West has prioritised fighting Russia over the global economy when it comes to sanctions.

In fact, the war’s most significant consequences outside of Europe are economic. The invasion and imposition of sanctions shook markets already shaken by COVID-19. Food and fuel prices increased, resulting in a cost-of-living crisis. Even though prices have fallen since then, inflation remains very high, exacerbating debt problems. The pandemic and the economic crisis are just two of the many threats that can strike already-weak countries and cause unrest, such as climate change and food insecurity. Pakistan is an example of a country on this year’s list. Many countries are in a similar situation.

Is there anything about the year 2022 that makes you optimistic about the year ahead? Given the gravity of the situation in Ukraine, it may appear illogical to look for any positives in the conflict. If Kyiv hadn’t fought so hard, if the West hadn’t been as united as it was under Biden’s leadership, and if Russia had won sooner, Europe and possibly the rest of the world would be in a much worse situation. Putin was not the only powerful person who had a difficult year in 2017. Several populists, whose policies had recently caused much controversy, were also defeated. Jair Bolsonaro was defeated in the Brazilian presidential election. Donald Trump, the former President of the United States, is currently a diminished figure. Marine Le Pen did not win the French presidential election. When populists took power in Italy, they shifted largely to the centre. Although the far-right populist movement is not extinct, some of its supporters have suffered misfortune. Furthermore, international diplomacy was largely in disarray. Despite their many disagreements, China, Russia, and the Western powers saw the United Nations Security Council as a place to address crises outside of Ukraine. A peace agreement that could end Ethiopia’s terrible war and improve relations between Colombia and Venezuela shows that peacemaking can continue in other regions even when Europe is at war.

However, it was a frightening year in general, and the fact that it was the latest in a long line of such years makes it even scarier. The pandemic shook the entire world. A mob of irate people stormed the United States Capitol. The climate makes it difficult for people to survive in some parts of the world. A major conflict is currently raging in Europe, and the man who started it is talking about nuclear escalation. Several poor countries are also suffering from debt crises, famine, and bad weather. Even though none of these events was unexpected, they would have been difficult to believe a few years ago. Furthermore, they take place at a time when more people are killed in wars and more people are homeless or hungry than at any other time since World War II.

So, will major powers go to war in 2023, or will they break a nearly eighty-year-old nuclear embargo? Will global social collapse be caused by political crises, poor economies, and climate change? The worst-case scenarios for this year’s most important questions do not appear to be realistic. In light of recent events, it would be irresponsible to assert that the impossible cannot occur.


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