How 50 days of Russia’s war in Ukraine changed the world

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on April 13 that the U.S. supports an international genocide investigation into Russia's war on Ukraine. (Video: Reuters)

Fifty days ago, on Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of a military assault on neighboring Ukraine. Russian artillery and airstrikes pummeled Ukrainian cities, and the Kremlin’s troops swept across the border, triggering a mass exodus that has become Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.

Harrowing images of death and torture, including the discovery of mass graves in a town under recent occupation by Russia, sent shock waves around the globe. Putin was labeled a war criminal, and several Western leaders have accused Russia of carrying out a “genocide.”

The fallout from Putin’s invasion also has repercussions far beyond Ukraine. It has forced nations to rethink neutrality and refugee policy, and it threatens to destabilize the global economy. Here is how the world has changed in the past 50 days.


A warm welcome for Ukrainian refugees

More than 4.6 million Ukrainians have left the country, with many fleeing into neighboring states such as Poland and Romania. Not all of these governments had laid out the red carpet for refugees in the past, but to accommodate this influx, European leaders installed a new playbook, forging political consensus and streamlining the asylum-seeking process.

Farther away, even Japan has moved to accept dozens of displaced Ukrainians — a remarkable move by a country that historically has been unwelcoming to asylum seekers. As of early April, Tokyo has welcomed more than 400 people — with some flying on a government-chartered plane from Poland.

The warm welcome offered to Ukrainian refugees has raised eyebrows, with World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently noting that countries such as Ethiopia and Yemen received “not a fraction” of the spotlight Ukraine has.


A rethinking of political nonalignment

Several countries that joined the Western-led financial war against Russia were either traditionally politically neutral or had close economic ties with Russian oligarchs.

Shortly after the invasion, Switzerland announced that it would join the European Union in imposing sanctions on Moscow, in a sharp departure with its long-standing neutrality. Monaco, a playground for Russia’s wealthy elites, also moved to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs in accordance with E.U. sanctions.

Similarly, Singapore made what it called an “almost unprecedented” move to impose sanctions on a country without a U.N. Security Council resolution.

The sanctions are biting. While Russia’s currency has recovered some ground after its post-invasion collapse, the World Bank forecasts that the Russian economy may contract 11.2 percent this year.


The continued deglobalization of the Russian economy

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russians took to Western brands from McDonald’s to Miu Miu. The international backlash to Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea began the decoupling of Russia’s society and economy from the Western world, but the Feb. 24 invasion has accelerated the process.

Under pressure from their home governments and consumers, major companies and organizations have moved to suspend or exit operations in Putin’s country, depriving Russians of access to many consumer goods. International sporting events and prominent cultural institutions have also severed ties with Russian participants.

Russia boycott: A list of global campaigns that are underway in support of Ukraine


A boom in German defense spending

Though it is Europe’s largest economy and an influential NATO member, Germany has long been careful about throwing its weight on the world stage. After the Cold War, Berlin also developed tight economic and energy ties with Moscow.

Putin’s aggression, however, has forced Germany to reverse course. In late February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that his government would vastly increase defense spending. He also greenlit arms deliveries to Ukraine — just weeks after his country was ridiculed for offering to send helmets to Kyiv.

Alongside long-term spending commitments, Germany’s military will see its coffers boosted by a one-off injection of $110 billion, about twice as much as its defense budget last year.


A threat to global livelihoods

Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of corn and wheat. Russia, the world’s largest oil exporter, was also a top supplier of fertilizer. But the protracted conflict has driven up commodity prices globally, jeopardizing food security and poverty alleviation efforts in Africa and the Middle East.

The World Food Program has said that 41 million people in western and central Africa may be affected by a food and nutrition crisis this year, as the region confronts the highest prices in a decade for products like grain, oil and fertilizer. The war has also set off panic buying of basic foodstuffs in countries such as Egypt, Syria and Lebanon that are reliant on Ukrainian and Russian imports.

On Tuesday, the World Trade Organization slashed this year’s growth forecast to 2.8 percent from 4.1 percent before the war, saying the conflict had inflicted “a severe blow” on the world economy. And the longer the war drags on, experts predict the damage will only grow.