June 4th marked 100 days since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. The world that lives in peace (or relative peace) cannot imagine the suffering that has been brought down on innocent Ukrainians for over three months now. The world away is dealing with different kinds of consequences: exorbitantly high food and fuel inflation. Being a heavy importer of those commodities, Pakistan is also among the victims of a faraway war in which it had no role, a war that is seriously setting its growth and development back.
There are plenty of questions. What will the next 100 days of this war look like? Can Russia and Ukraine agree on a peace deal anytime soon? If they do, can the truce or ceasefire hold firm? How will the global markets – especially hydrocarbons, grains, oils, among others – react to a peaceful outcome? How will markets respond if peace talks didn't go anywhere? Will elevated prices remain the new normal if the war dragged on without a clear winner? What could eventually break the stalemate and force an outcome?
Committing to meaningful peace talks is the best-case scenario at this stage for scaling down the conflict and eventually finding mutually-acceptable outcomes. And the prospects there do not look too bright. Both sides have incentive to carry on with the fighting. Russia cannot withdraw troops or agree to an unconditional ceasefire because its President needs to save face after failing to achieve any of his strategic objectives after 100 days and suffering heavy losses of men, and machines (and reputation).
For their part, the Ukrainians, who have surprised the world by their indomitable fighting spirit against the world’s second-largest army, have no reason to hold back. After all, they have successfully pushed mighty Russian army away from the capital region, forcing them to hole down in eastern Ukrainian regions (Luhansk and Donetsk). Encouraged by what they see, the Western capitals are also doubling down in arming Ukraine and providing significant financial support. In short, all sides are digging in.
Nobody knows how or when the war will end. For now, misery grows in poor regions across the world. The UN has warned that the food and fuel price crisis will exacerbate the acuteness of existing sufferings in low-income and poor countries. US President Joe Biden has been calling the post-invasion increase in global commodity prices as the ‘Putin price hike’. Other countries agree. For instance, the African Union chief recently told Russian President Vladimir Putin last week that Africa is a victim of the war in Ukraine.
Even food shortages may play to Putin’s advantage. Some observers wonder if Russia’s decision to block access to grain shipments at sea ports on the Black Sea are a sinister move to force mass migration into Europe from shortage-hit countries in Africa and Middle East. If there is political pressure on the West as a result of rising number of refugees, Putin can use it as leverage on the negotiating table. Next 100 days of this war, therefore, have potential to raise political stakes in the West, risking direct conflict with Russia.