How does the current Russia-Ukraine conflict impact the world at large and Lebanon in particular? We spoke to Dr. Ohannes Geukjian an expert on Russia and the former Soviet republics (of which Ukraine is one) and the Middle East. His recently published book Russian Military Intervention in Syria (McGill Queen’s University Press, 2022), was referenced by The New York Times.
Let us start with a snapshot of the situation today.
It’s quite a complex dilemma where no party will accept losing and there is much uncertainty as to when or how this war will end. Ukraine is calling for a ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops. Russia will not change its position in the near future and insists to ban Ukraine from joining NATO, has its own conditions, and justifies its invasion of the Ukraine the way it has with other former Soviet republics such as Georgia in 2008. Neither the EU nor the US would like to get involved in a direct military conflict with Russia. Yet, they have imposed very harsh economic, political sanctions to influence it.The negotiations, if any, have been futile. The human toll is immense and neighboring European countries with little resources will quickly ask for a solution to an emerging refugee crisis.Meanwhile, the West is supplying weapons and we are in the middle of an escalating war.
Where does Lebanon fall in all of this?
With a hike in prices such as those of oil and gas, the war has a negative impact on the world in general, and the Middle East in particular, specifically fragile countries like Lebanon. Lebanon is not a productive economy, most of the consumer goods are imported. More than 80 percent of wheat was being imported from Ukraine, more than 14 percent imported from Russia and remains a failing state of a broken country, broken government infrastructure, and broken institutions. Destitute and disabled, the government is unable to take strategic action or find substitute markets.
The Lebanese are split into for and against what Russia is doing. Due to various alliances and interests, the Lebanese are divided over the legitimacy of the Russian invasion. Also, many Lebanese youth studying in the Ukraine are now unsure if, when, and how they will be able to continue their education.
This is not an unfamiliar scenario to the people of the Middle East, where one country considers a neighboring one a national security threat. In Lebanon, we witnessed the violation of the sovereignty of Lebanon during the Israeli occupation in 1982 and when Syria controlled Lebanon for three decades. Today, Syria has troops from Russia and Iran on its territory, albeit with acquiescence of the Syrian government.
If all abide by international law, we can avoid such conflicts. All sides of the conflict need to render concessions but we are still far from that stage. There is a possibility that this would become an attrition warfare, which means neither side would be considered a winner, leading to more shelling, continued shooting, and violated ceasefires, until the West and Russia find common ground to discuss certain issues on the negotiations table.
The only thing that has been discussed is establishing humanitarian corridors for civilian migration, mostly to Poland and some to Romania and Moldova.
What goes on inside AUB classrooms in relation to the Russia-Ukraine conflict?
Professors in sociology, psychology, and political studies, including myself, highlight that the UN Charter, international law, should not be violated. Yes, conflicts occur everywhere and there are military competitions between countries, but we should find peaceful channels, diplomatic means, dialogue, and negotiation to reach a win-win solution. Otherwise, the stronger country wins and that does not resolve conflict.
We follow the war and the negotiations and we draw hypotheses of how it could end. We analyze the ongoing reshuffling of international relations and the impact of changes on the world economy. We also look at the information war played by international media which is focusing on the indiscriminate bombardment and killing of civilianswith no clear idea of how many thousands of people have been killed in areas that cannot be trespassed as they are invaded and controlled by the Russian Army.