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The Global Impact of Putin’s war

Speech delivered to the Germany-American Annual Meeting of the Internationale Journalisten Programme (IJP)

March 18, 2022

Stéphane Dion
Ambassador of Canada to Germany and Special Envoy of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the European Union and Europe

Sehr geehrter Herr Dr. Freiling,

Meine Damen und Herren,

Chers amis du Canada,

Thanks to the Internationale Journalisten Programme, I have, again this year, the honour and responsibility to address a group of young journalists passionate about transatlantic relations between Germany, Canada and the United States.

This responsibility incumbent on me is all the heavier this year. I am addressing you as we are all revolted, horrified by an unjustifiable war, unleashed by the decision of a single man. It was President Vladimir Putin who wanted this war, who chose war. So we have to call it by its name: Putin's war.

The greatness of the Russian people, their honor, is to have repelled their invaders and to have put them out of harm's way for the good of all humanity.

Such is the Russia that we all admire and that must not dishonour itself by becoming the invader of a neighbour three times less populated and eight times less armed.

So for Ukraine, for all humanity and for the honour of Russia, we feel like paraphrasing Ronald Reagan in front of the Berlin Wall, and proclaiming together:

President Putin, stop this war.

Arrêtez cette guerre.

Stoppen Sie diesen Krieg.

To convince his own country of the necessity of this brutal invasion and justify the deaths of thousands of Russian soldiers, Putin must subject the Russians to intense propaganda, censorship and the wide use of disinformation. The Duma passed a law subjecting journalists to 15 years in prison for reporting anything other than the official version. Putin muzzles your Russian colleagues, who risk their freedom, if not their life, if they dare to speak the truth.

Like all wars, this one takes thousands of lives, men, women and children, razes entire neighborhoods, crushes energy grids and vital transport and civilian infrastructure, and throws millions of vulnerable and disoriented people on the roads. This war endangers the sovereignty, the very survival of a courageous country, whose resistance commands admiration.

Constant crisis coordination between our countries will be essential to provide the overall humanitarian response in Ukraine and to take care of the massive influx of millions of displaced people who have fled Ukraine. Countries such as Poland and Moldova have exceeded their refugee absorption capacity limit, and requested medicines, medical supplies and other forms of assistance, including food, fuel, power generators, and tents and shelter items.  Like Germany and other countries, Canada is helping people fleeing Ukraine come to Canada, to ease the burden on Poland and neighbouring countries that are bearing the brunt of this refugee wave.

These are the direct victims, the direct consequences, of Putin's war, of his brazen disregard for international law and human life. Moreover, as a ripple effect, all of humanity is a victim of Putin's act of war. I will devote the rest of my remarks to reviewing with you some of the worst global consequences of this war.

First, we must mention a potential danger: the risk of nuclear conflagration. President Putin has placed Russian nuclear forces on special alert, reminding us that the world's leading nuclear power has enough firepower to cause a global nuclear winter. The atomic radiation that may have resulted from rockets fired at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant reminds us how a local war can, with today’s technologies, have catastrophic global scale lethal effects.

Putin’s war has serious concrete consequences for the world economy, according to the OECD. The full-scale invasion of Ukraine will impact food supplies in other areas of the world, causing a considerable increase in the prices of agricultural products, such as wheat and corn. With Ukraine and Russia together accounting for more than a third of global grain exports, an additional 8-13 million people are at risk of suffer from hunger worldwide due to the effects of the war in Ukraine, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The Sahel, for example, already lacked rain, while Yemen and the Middle East are areas of concern given that 70% of their grain come from Ukraine.  Our countries will have to work together to prevent any risk of famine and address food shortages caused by Putin’s war.

Through strong concerted action, we, along with all of our allied nations, have implemented the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a major economy, to further isolate Putin's regime from the global trading system. However, the war, the sanctions needed to hold Putin to account and the resulting uncertainty have a severe collateral impact on the economy of many countries and on global growth in general. Notably, rising energy costs will impact everything from the price of food to the cost of drinking water, posing a challenge to consumers, especially in developing countries.

Another tragic consequence of this war is to force our NATO countries to increase their military spending. Our governments would be denounced as irresponsible if they did not deploy additional means to ensure their defence and that of their allies. The latest data available (2020) shows total global military expenditure at 1981 billion USD, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Let's realize that this is three times more than all of the global climate-related primary investments devoted to fight and adapt to climate change:  632 billion USD in 2019/2020 according to the Global Climate Landscape Policy Initiative. That humanity is spending three times as much money to protect itself against itself as it does to protect itself against the climate change crisis, is a catastrophe that Putin's war will only make worse.

Our countries have deployed additional Armed forces and extended their operations along the eastern flank. Chancellor Scholz announced funding of 100 billion euros to overhaul the Bundeswehr. That could propel Germany to third in the world in defence spending, behind the United States and China, from seventh today. In fact, several Member States of the European Union have announced their intention to increase their defence spending. Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand said that Canada will soon unveil a significant spending plan to help modernize continental defences under NORAD. The consensus is growing within the US Congress for vast increases in military spending to address the changed security landscape.

These major defence and security-related announcements will have important implications for budget policy, at a time when countries' fiscal balances are being hurt by the two-year fiscal efforts to cope with the COVID crisis and the resulting economic downturn. These additional budgetary pressures come as our countries need to invest massively in the energy transition to decarbonize their economies and achieve their ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. Painful budget negotiations can be expected, intertwining military, financial and energy issues.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine highlights the security dimension of energy issues, in addition to their economic and ecological aspects. It convinced the European Union to extricate itself from its dependence on hydrocarbons from this petro state. Its most important energy provider has turned into a liability to international security.  Germany’s suspension of the Nordstream 2 certification process is the emblematic gesture of this aspiration, together with the decision to build two terminals for the import of liquefied gas.

However, with an average dependence on Russian gas of 40% across the continent, and reaching up to 100% in some Central and Eastern European countries, while gas prices are already reaching record levels, energy decoupling from Russia will not happen overnight. The European Commission is tasked with drawing up a plan to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy supplies by two-thirds by the end of 2022 and end it by 2027. "It's doable", according to President Ursula von der Leyen, who must present concrete proposals in this direction in the coming weeks.

German Economy, Energy and Climate minister Robert Habeck predicted that Germany will not need any more Russian coal by fall, and oil by the end of 2022. However, he admitted that the dependency on Russian gas imports is a more complex situation. Currently, Germany imports around 55% of its natural gas, 50% of its coal and 35% of its oil from Russia.

The challenge is to ensure that the renunciation of Russian gas does not lead, in some countries, to a return to coal, the most emitting source of energy, nor to a slowdown in the exit from coal, planned in Germany for 2030. The EU intends to accelerate the development of renewable energies and clean hydrogen, perceived now not only as an ecological necessity but also as a strategic asset and a matter of security policy.

We can then see how energy, climate and trade issues have geostrategic ramifications highlighted by Putin's war. Hence the vital importance of strengthening our economic, commercial and scientific ties between democracies and reliable partners. Canada, as a champion of high technology and a provider of essential resources, intends to do its part and play a leading role, as Prime Minister Trudeau and Ministers Freeland and Joly reiterated during their recent visit to Berlin. Canada has the capacity to export a surplus of clean, renewable energy that can help the U.S. and European countries to not only meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets, but also to diversify their supply to become less dependant on energy imports from Russia.

To strengthen our trade ties, we can count on the excellent Canada-EU trade agreement, CETA, which the German Parliament should ratify now that the provisional application has been recognized as constitutional by the German Constitutional Court.

Another international consequence of Putin's war is the need to step up our fight against disinformation that aims to undermine our democracies. To that end, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a reinvestment in the Canadian-led G7 Rapid Response Mechanism, the purpose of which is to identify, block and respond to disinformation threats targeting G7 democracies.

Finally, I will mention one last perverse effect of Putin's war: it deals a severe blow to confidence in dialogue and diplomacy as a means of conflict prevention. It is to be hoped that the ongoing negotiations on a nuclear treaty with Iran will be crowned with success, so that the world regains some confidence in the capacities of diplomacy.

I could also cite the paralysis of the Arctic Council, the weakening of space cooperation... this war is a disaster in many respects. The world really didn't need that.

Earlier this year, the German government announced its priorities as G7 2022 chair. These priorities all correspond to indisputable urgent global needs:

In an ideal world, it is exclusively these types of goals that we would pursue. We will still seek to achieve them resolutely, with the most coordinated action possible, on the occasion of this G7, without a doubt. But Putin's war shows how far the world is from the ideal, and for democracies to continue to pursue such universal goals, they must protect themselves against the worst.

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