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Russia-Ukraine: some initial thoughts for charities

Clare Mills, CFG's Director of Policy and Communications, shares her initial thoughts on the escalating Russia-Ukraine situation and the potential impact the crisis could have on the sector.

 

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, after weeks, months, even years of growing tension, has finally happened. Although it may feel far away, it’s a significant event in global geopolitics. As citizens of a globalised world, there are several issues that we need to be aware of, especially in relation to our roles as charity finance leaders.

 

Operations and business continuity

Cybersecurity has just become even more important. Russia has a reputation for past involvement in significant cyberattacks on the UK and the digital infrastructure of other western democracies. With sanctions already imposed, and harsher sanctions anticipated, the risk of widespread cyberattack has been increased. On 22 February 2022, the National Centre for Cyber Security warned that organisations should increase security and vigilance – this includes charities. Have a look at their guidance on what to do when the cyber threat is heightened.

As well as ensuring antivirus and other digital systems are up-to-date, charities should also think about staff skills and knowledge. Cyberattacks happen frequently. They often rely on human action to turn them from prospective to successful attacks; whether that’s through clicking on a link in an email, text message or dodgy website, or responding to a spoof email asking for data.

Do you have a system in place for regular refresher sessions with all your staff and volunteers? Don’t forget that any suspicious email can be sent on to the National Cyber Security Centre via email. This helps NCSC build up a picture of what threats are going around and potentially identify where these are originating.

Operating costs are highly likely to be affected, directly and indirectly, as a result of pressure on energy supplies. In the short period since the invasion began, the price of natural gas has increased by over 30% and crude oil prices have also leapt upwards. Gas storage across Europe is at a five year low and with both Russia and Ukraine as significant players in the European gas network, scarcity of supply with maintain pressure on prices.

Ukraine is the home of the fourth largest natural gas pipeline network in the world, which facilitates Russian gas exports. There is a risk that the pipeline system will be affected, by physical damage, and/or by sanctions restricting Russia’s ability to export its gas. Alongside increasing energy prices for charities’ own consumption, the pressure on energy prices will also lead to price rises in goods and services as a result of suppliers being equally affected.

 

Serving communities and beneficiaries

Demand for service and support is also likely to be a factor for charities working in the relief of hardship. Alongside rising energy prices, Russia and Ukraine are responsible for 30% of wheat exports, providing 14% of the world’s wheat supplies. Again, a combination of sanctions and damage to physical infrastructure has the potential to lead to increasing food prices – and we know food prices are already increasing due to rising energy costs.

Alongside those facing hardship, many charities work with diaspora communities. People with friends and family in Ukraine will be feeling anxious and fearful for their loved ones; people in the UK from Ukraine who were planning to return home are now facing uncertain futures.

The fear that the Ukraine invasion is just the first step in a longer-term plan to retake control of other former Soviet states will also be affecting people with connections to countries including Georgia, Belarus and the Baltic states. People from the UK’s Polish communities may also be living with increased tension: Poland is the closest NATO partner to Russia and Ukraine: refugees from Ukraine are already heading into Poland in significant numbers.

People with connections to Russia will also be concerned, for their loved ones in a country now taking military action against a neighbouring state, and for themselves as potential targets of hate crime.

As a member of NATO, the UK could be involved in any joint military response – particularly if the Russian forces move closer to the Polish border. This could mean heightened levels of anxiety and concern among serving military personnel and their families, as well as veterans. Charities working with the military and veterans communities may also find they have increased demand for support.

 

Other issues

We are already witnessing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Immediately ahead of the invasion, the International Rescue Committee is predicting a major humanitarian crisis in Ukraine:

Ukraine is undergoing its eighth year of conflict with Russia; any significant escalation in fighting would result in soaring humanitarian needs and could lead to one of the largest displacement crises in recent years. Previous rounds of fighting in Ukraine have devastated civil infrastructure, disrupted essential public services, driven food shortages, and led to grave human suffering and displacement.

There are almost three million people in need of humanitarian aid inside the country, many of whom live in eastern Ukraine where outbreaks of violence are already being reported. It is vital that all sides meaningfully participate in diplomatic efforts to avert conflict and the suffering it will produce.

With some of the worst winter weather still ahead of us, a humanitarian crisis in Poland as large numbers of people arrive from Ukraine could also develop.

 

Like many people around the world, here at CFG we are hoping for a rapid return to diplomacy as the norm of international relations, an end to the conflict, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a peaceful, sustained de-escalation.

If this blog post is redundant in a week, I’ll be happy. But in the meantime, I hope it’s useful to you. Let me know what you think.

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