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Opinion | Ukraine Is the First Real World War

Commercial U.S.-based satellite companies, like Maxar Technologies, have enabled anyone to view from space hundreds of desperate people lining up for food outside a supermarket in Mariupol — even though the Russians have the town surrounded on the ground and have banned any journalists from entering.

Then there are the cyberwarriors who can jump into the fight from anywhere — and have. CNBC reported that “a popular Twitter account named ‘Anonymous’ declared that the shadowy activist group was waging a ‘cyber war’ against Russia.” The account, which has more than 7.9 million global followers — almost eight times larger than Russia’s whole army (including some 500,000 new Anonymous followers since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) — “has claimed responsibility for disabling prominent Russian government, news and corporate websites and leaking data from entities such as Roskomnadzor, the federal agency responsible for censoring Russian media.”

Such nongovernmental, super-empowered global players and platforms were not present in W.W.I or II.

But just as so many more people can affect this war, so, too, can more be affected by it. Russia and Ukraine are key suppliers of wheat and fertilizer to the agricultural supply chains that now feed the world and that this war has disrupted. A war between just two countries in Europe has spiked the price of food for Egyptians, Brazilians, Indians and Africans.

And because Russia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of natural gas, crude oil and the diesel fuel used by farmers in their tractors, the sanctions on Russia’s energy infrastructure are curbing its exports, causing gasoline pump prices to rise from Minneapolis to Mexico to Mumbai, and forcing farmers as far away as Argentina to ration their diesel-powered tractor usage or cut fossil-fuel-rich fertilizer usage, jeopardizing Argentina’s agriculture exports and adding further to soaring world food prices.

There’s another unexpected financial globalization angle on this war that you really need to keep your eye on: Putin saved up over $600 billion in gold, foreign government bonds and foreign currency, earned from all of Russia’s energy and mineral exports, precisely so he would have a cushion if he were sanctioned by the West. But Putin apparently forgot that in today’s wired world, as is standard practice, his government had deposited most of it in the banks of Western countries and China.

According to the Atlantic Council GeoEconomics Center, the top six nations where Russian central bank foreign currency assets are stowed by percentage are: China, 17.7 percent; France, 15.6 percent; Japan, 12.8 percent; Germany, 12.2 percent; U.S., 8.5 percent; and Britain, 5.8 percent. Also, the Bank of International Settlement and the International Monetary Fund have 6.4 percent.

Each of these countries, except China, has now frozen the Russian reserves it is holding — so around $330 billion is inaccessible to Putin, according to the Atlantic Council’s tracker. But not only can the Russian state not touch those reserves to prop up its crumbling economy, there will be a huge global push to tap this money to pay reparations to rebuild the Ukrainian homes, apartment buildings, roads and government structures the Russian Army destroyed in Putin’s war of choice.

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