SINGAPORE - The war in Ukraine has led to a shift in the world order and the return of nationalism in Europe, those attending a webinar organised by The Straits Times heard on Monday (March 28).
More than 250 people attended the ST Connect Webinar titled War in Ukraine: What's Next which was moderated by Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of SPH Media Trust's English, Malay and Tamil Media Group and ST editor.
The other panellists included ST's associate editor Ravi Velloor, foreign editor Bhagyashree Garekar, global affairs correspondent Jonathan Eyal and China bureau chief Tan Dawn Wei.
Mr Eyal described Ukraine in terms of a watershed moment, saying it had ushered in the end of the post-Cold War period, particularly in Europe.
He said: "Effectively, what we are seeing is the return of geopolitics coupled with a return of nationalism...The discussion in Europe is now a Europe for the Europeans."
He was agreeing with a point made by Mr Velloor about deglobalisation being a major new worry in the wake of the war.
Mr Eyal added: "The discussion is about dismantling some of the global market connections that have kept us together, and about spending more rather than less on defence equipment - a very major shift, which I would not have predicted even a year ago."
Many are now wondering about Russian President Vladimir Putin's endgame since Moscow signalled last week that it would focus on securing the eastern Donbass region in Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.
Mr Eyal said this may herald the beginning of a new strategy by Moscow to split Ukraine and to hold on to the territories that Russia had occupied in the east of that country.
"(It is) to tell the Western nations that, in the end, they could not prevent what he (Putin) wanted to do to claim victory at home and to warn the Ukrainian government that it does not matter what they do, they can never escape from Russia's clutches."
Commenting on the fighting, Mr Velloor cautioned against writing off the Russian forces who appear thus far to have suffered bigger-than-expected losses against strong Ukrainian resistance.
He said the Russian military had not yet rolled out more sophisticated assets such as unmanned armoured vehicles and robot tanks like the Uran-9, which was used extensively in Syria.
Mr Eyal warned against a "sort of First World War scenario of stumbling, like nightwalkers, into a war that nobody really wants" with repeated calls by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Mr Fernandez noted that France, Britain and Germany were trying to "ensure that we do not escalate unnecessarily and end up in a war that nobody really wants".
The panellists also discussed China's stance on the conflict. Beijing has been criticised by the West for not taking a stronger position against Russia but Ms Tan noted that China was trying to not get drawn into the conflict.
"The bottom line for China is to really protect its economy. Self interest, national interests come first," she said.
Still, she said the Chinese narrative or strategy had remained consistent, which is "to blame the United States".
"Interestingly, school teachers of all levels now have to undergo study sessions to understand the correct view of the Russian-Ukraine relationship and why Russia has reason to invade Ukraine and why it's the US' and Nato's fault for provoking Putin," she said.
Ms Garekar also took up a question posed by an ST reader who asked if the US had been harder towards China than India, both of which have refrained from being overly critical of Russia's actions.
She said this could be due to Washington's vision of the world and the Indo-Pacific.
“India is seen as an Asian nation that is capable or willing to push back against Chinese aggressive moves. I think that is why we see this sort of difference. India is seen as being with the US and Western corner while China is not,” she said.
Mr Velloor was less than hopeful about the possibility of the US and China putting aside their differences to resolve the Ukraine crisis.
"I'm not even sure that the Chinese have that much influence with Russia as it's believed to be. It is the Chinese that have sort of bent their positions to accommodate Russia as far as I can see," he said.
At the webinar, ST ran an opinion poll which saw 86 per cent of respondents agreeing that the Ukraine war signalled a permanent shift in the world order, while 14 per cent disagreed.