Nearly a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the battlefield has narrowed and stiff resistance has forced Moscow to scale back its military goals. But the diplomatic consequences of the war still reverberate worldwide.
The fighting has reshaped global alliances, renewed old anxieties and breathed new life into NATO and the bond between Europe and the United States.
The invasion drew Moscow closer to Beijing and the pariah states of Iran and North Korea. It also raised broad questions about sovereignty, security and the use of military power, while intensifying fears about China’s designs on Taiwan.
“The war underscores the interrelationship between diplomacy and the use of force in a way that has not been thought about in quite the same fashion for many, many years,” said Ian Lesser, vice president of the German Marshall Fund think tank.
When Russian forces invaded on February 24, it “marked the complete end of the post-Cold War world,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said last month in a speech at Johns Hopkins University. “It has come to light that globalization and interdependence alone cannot serve as a guarantor for peace and development across the globe.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Ukraine is an “integral part” of Russian history that never achieved “real statehood” — a stance that echoes Chinese President Xi Jinping’s position on Taiwan, a self-governed island that Beijing claims as its own.
Some six months after the invasion of Ukraine, China issued a white paper on Taiwan, saying the island “has been an integral part of China’s territory since ancient times.” The paper said Beijing seeks “peaceful reunification” but “will not renounce the use of force.”
China’s designs on Taiwan date to well before the war in Ukraine, but China stepped up its pressure over the past year or more, including firing ballistic missiles over the island and into Japanese waters in August in response to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.
If Russia is allowed to succeed in Ukraine, it could further embolden countries like China, with its visions of an international order “that diverge from ours and that we can never accept,” Kishida said.
He pledged to use Japan’s presidency of the G7 this year to strengthen “the unity of like-minded countries” against Russian aggression.
“If we let this unilateral change of the status quo by force go unchallenged, it will happen elsewhere in the world, including Asia,” he said.
A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be far more complicated than Russia’s attack on Ukraine, said Euan Graham, a Singapore-based expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“Russia’s incompetent performance on the battlefield in Ukraine has to give pause to any military or senior political leader in China about an adventure on a much more ambitious scale with Taiwan,” Graham said.
But the fear is real. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen extended the nation’s compulsory military service in a December announcement that referenced the war in Ukraine.
“They’ve drawn the lesson from Ukraine that you need to have a larger military reserve if there is a conflict,” Graham said.
North Korea, which has threatened to preemptively use nuclear weapons in a broad range of scenarios, was already a regional concern. But Russia’s suggestion that it could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine fueled new worries.
South Korea, which is under the protection of the American “nuclear umbrella,” last year expanded exercises with the U.S. military that had been downsized under the Trump administration. South Korea is also seeking stronger assurances that Washington will swiftly use its nuclear capabilities in the face of a North Korean nuclear attack.
North Korea has been strongly supportive of neighboring Russia. Late last year, the U.S. accused Pyongyang of supplying Russia with artillery shells.
Iran has also been helping Russia militarily, providing the bomb-carrying drones Moscow uses to strike power plants and civilian sites throughout Ukraine.
While Western allies have cooperated closely in their responses to the war, a major diplomatic challenge has been to convince much of the rest of the world of the invasion’s significance.
Only a handful of countries in Asia have taken tough action against Moscow, and many abstained from the United Nations resolution condemning the attack.
Just weeks before the invasion, China declared a “no limits” friendship with Russia. It has refused to criticize the war and has drawn closer to Russia, buying more of its oil and gas and helping Moscow to offset Western sanctions.
But there are signs of “complicated fault lines” in the China-Russia relationship, Jude Blanchette, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a call with reporters.
During September talks in Uzbekistan, the Chinese president raised unspecified “concerns” with Putin over the invasion, though at the same time promised “strong support” to Russia’s “core interests.”
“I think if Xi Jinping could snap his fingers, he would like to see the war end but in a way that Russia comes out of this with Putin in power and Russia continuing to be a strong strategic partner,” Blanchette said.
India, which is heavily reliant on Russia for military equipment, also abstained from the U.N. resolution and has continued to purchase Russian oil.
But as regional rival China moves closer to Russia, India has quietly drifted toward the U.S., especially within the four Quad nations that also include Japan and Australia, said Viraj Solanki, a London-based expert with the IISS think tank.
In Europe, the invasion has reinvigorated NATO after a barrage of criticism from Donald Trump during his presidency that led French President Emmanuel Macron to declare the alliance had experienced “brain death.”
NATO member countries and allies have rallied to support Ukraine, with several changing policies that prohibited the export of weapons to countries in conflict. Perhaps most remarkably, Germany shed post-World War II taboos and provided Leopard battle tanks.
The war also prompted Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership, which most experts think will be approved this year.
NATO last year singled out China for the first time as a strategic challenge, although not a direct adversary. The alliance warned about China’s growing military ambitions, its confrontational rhetoric and its increasingly close ties to Russia.
Beyond NATO, the war has also underscored the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and European Union, which Lesser said has been “absolutely critical” to sanctions and export controls.
China insists that it is the U.S. that started the Ukraine crisis, partially through NATO’s expansion into more Eastern European countries. Beijing has also criticized the alliance for suggesting the war could influence China’s actions in Asia.
“NATO claims to be a regional defense organization, but it keeps breaking through the territory and field, stirring up conflicts, creating tension, exaggerating threats and encouraging confrontation,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin.
The war’s long-term effects on global diplomacy are difficult to predict. But Lesser said one thing is certain: It will be “very hard for Russia to recover from the damage to its reputation on many levels.”
A core group of countries such as Syria, North Korea, Iran and Venezuela “may be inclined to stick with Russia,” he said. But in terms of broader diplomacy, Russia’s reputation “has experienced an enormous blow.”