How Post-Conflict Ukraine could Further Exacerbate South Asian Security

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has sent shockwaves across the globe. Despite the efforts of a good number of states for dispute resolution, score-settling on the battlefield has turned it into a costly and prolonged conflict. It has left Ukraine weak and heavily dependent on the West. Meanwhile, this weakness will further exacerbate the security situation beyond Europe, especially in South Asia due to the strengthening of far-right extremism, refugee crises and proliferation of arms. Aftershocks of such a situation in Iraq and Afghanistan are existing examples.

Damage to Ukraine

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, NATO expanded eastward and most of Eastern Europe was eventually taken. It was a direct move towards the Russian borders and raised anxieties. President Putin warned in his speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference that “NATO has put its frontline forces on our borders…[and] represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended.”

Even before the current conflict, Russia demanded NATO’s guarantees on several security issues which were ignored – it simply put Ukraine on a path of collision with Russia. The conflict has crippled civilian and military infrastructure, with more than 40 percent loss incurred by Ukraine’s power sector. The miserable situation will continue creating social unrest and instability in the country. Meanwhile, the financial cost is increasing as the conflict prolongs. According to the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Ukraine is to lose 30 to 40 percent of its gross domestic product this year. Kyiv has asked for post-conflict reconstruction support, but with the already underperforming economies in the West, Ukraine will have to look for other options and foreign investment projects such as the Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

Similarly, an estimated loss of $2.8 trillion in global economic production for 2023 has been predicted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Additionally, the OECD changed global economic growth from 4.5 percent in 2022 and 3.2 percent in 2023 to 3 percent this year and 2.2 percent next year. The global forecast draws a gloomy picture of the future, which needs to be taken care of. Options ought to be sought urgently by the international community to end the conflict.

Post-conflict Ukraine

The West has equipped Ukraine with weapons and other military equipment worth billions of dollars. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, “It’s the first time that a European country has held the top spot since the Harry S. Truman administration directed vast sums into rebuilding the continent through the Marshall Plan after World Conflict II.” The U.S. administration has so far provided nearly $50 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial, and military support of $22 billion.

Twenty-five of the twenty-eight NATO countries provided military assistance to Ukraine in the form of sophisticated weapons.  This includes infantry arms, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank weapons, tanks, armoured vehicles, ground support vehicles, air-to-ground missiles, reconnaissance, attack drones, helicopters, ammunition, body armour, radar and communications equipment, and commercial satellite services.

The matter becomes serious once there is little effort to track and prevent the arms from falling into wrong hands. Ukraine has one of the largest illicit arms markets in Europe, particularly for small firearms and ammunition, according to the 2021 Global Organized Crime Index (GOCI). Between 2013 and 2015, there were almost 300,000 reports of lost or stolen small arms. Only about 13 percent of these were retrieved, and the majority continue to be traded on the illicit market. The lack of monitoring along with suitable conditions could bring further instability, as witnessed in the Middle East and Latin America.

The presence of far-right militias creates another challenge for Ukraine on its home front. Though the struggle against Russia continues, many right-wing militias, such as the Azov movement, are allegedly helping Ukrainian armed forces. The efforts to integrate such armed groups into regular armed forces and a national sense of indebt in defense will make this ultranationalist threat more complicated. The strengthening of far-right militias in Ukraine will have a ripple effect on the rest of the West already facing serious threats from far-right extremists in their territories. For instance, Germany has foiled a right-wing plan to take over the government. The return of foreign fighters fighting the conflict could further create security threats in the continent.

In terms of sustainable peace and stability, it will not be a rational choice for Ukraine to rely on one side only. The existing leanings have cost it a brutal conflict which has changed the state into rubble. Therefore, it is in Ukraine’s interest to be neutral in its relations with the West and Russia.

Security Implications for South-Asia

One of the most underlying concerns in South Asia is rise of far-right extremism in India, the second most populated country on earth. The fall of Indian democracy to an abyss has been propounded by the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) currently ruling the country under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The strength substituted to such racist groups by the conflict in Ukraine manifests a complicated situation in the region. Moreover, with a checkered history between Pakistan and India which has seen new lows since Modi’s rise to power in India, matters will take a further dive. Similarly, Western support for India to enable it as a net security provider in the region against China will increase India’s political, economic, and military influence. However, it will also provide an impetus to far-right extremists in other parts of the world to look at India as a model to further their agenda, compounding the threat globally.

Ukraine’s track record of weapon smuggling would also be a challenge for South-Asian countries as many terrorist organizations will have the opportunity to get access to Western weaponry. This could lead to a rise in already resurgent terrorism in the region, especially in Pakistan.

Given the evolving dynamics of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the international community must work together responsibly to manage the situation in Ukraine. The peace process could move the conflict considerably if both act pragmatically and re-establish ties. The fact is that Ukraine and Russia cannot change their status as neighbours and need to work out a way of coexisting and respecting each other’s red lines. A détente will bring back peace to the European continent and stabilise the global economy. Otherwise, a prolonged conflict will bring more misfortune to security and stability worldwide.

<strong>How Post-Conflict Ukraine could Further Exacerbate South Asian Security</strong>

About Syed Ali Abbas 1 Article
Syed Ali Abbas is Associate Research Officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan.

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