Russia-Ukraine war: the risks of escalation and its humanitarian impact

What are the risks of the conflict in Ukraine escalating beyond the country’s borders, and what would the consequences be for both Ukrainians and the rest of the world? These questions will be discussed during a conference held by the Geneva Press Club next month, co-hosted by Geneva Solutions and Le Temps.

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the war has claimed thousands of lives and displaced over eight million people. Now into its second year, the conflict has sent shockwaves across the world, disrupting global energy and food supplies and intensifying geopolitical tensions.

With apparently little prospect of a diplomatic resolution bringing an end to the war in the months ahead, many observers are concerned about the potential for a dangerous escalation – including Russia’s use of nuclear weapons. Moscow’s threats against neighbouring countries such as Moldova and Georgia have added to the tension.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians continue to flee the war and seek refuge in Europe, where some five million refugees are being hosted today with no sense of when they will be able to return to Ukraine. With solidarity waning in some countries and no peaceful settlement solution in sight, their fate remains uncertain.

The panel discussion held on 4 April will bring together ambassadors with high-level experts and representatives from international organisations to discuss the risks of escalation in the conflict, and what this would mean for Ukrainian refugees and the world as a whole.

Iryna Venediktova, ambassador of Ukraine in Switzerland, will take part in the debate alongside Tatiana Molcean, Moldova’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, and Michel Duclos, the former French ambassador to Switzerland. The panellists will discuss the threats of a Russian attack on neighbouring countries and what the consequences could be.

Speaking in a recent interview with SonntagsZeitung, ambassador Venediktova urged other countries – including Switzerland – to help Ukraine “maintain its sovereignty”. “It’s about defending the international legal order and human rights,” she said, urging Switzerland not to stay neutral in the face of Russia’s aggression.

The participants, which also include security experts from the Geneva community, will assess the severity of the nuclear threats repeatedly made by President Vladimir Putin and what could trigger an attack. They will also discuss what would prompt other nuclear powers to intervene in the conflict that experts warn has pushed the world the closest it has ever been to nuclear war.

While the path towards peace remains long and uncertain, the lives of millions of Ukrainians both inside and outside the country hang in the balance. Nearly 18 million people in Ukraine are in urgent humanitarian assistance, including more than five million internally displaced by the war.

Across Europe, roughly five million Ukrainians were registered for temporary protection or similar national schemes. How long can these systems remain in place? The treatment of Ukrainian refugees has been starkly different in many countries, compared to those from nations such as Afghanistan and Syria. Will this solidarity endure when long-term solutions are needed from governments that continue to become increasingly hostile to people seeking refuge?

Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for protection at UNHCR, will join other refugee and asylum experts to discuss the reality facing Ukrainian refugees fleeing towards the west and what will happen to them in the long run if the conflict continues. The panel will also discuss how different countries have stepped up to take in people fleeing the war, how this compares to their treatment of refugees from elsewhere and what international organisations in Geneva are doing to help.

The event, co-organised by Geneva Solutions and our partner Le Temps, will be moderated in part by our journalist Michelle Langrand. The debate will be held in English and French with simultaneous interpretation. Entry is free. For more information or to book tickets, visit the Geneva Press Club website.