A raft of sanctions and travel changes may be coming for global travelers due to the Ukrainian war, but what are they?
Update: Russia/Ukraine War
The Russian military has been circling the capital city of Kyiv for several days. Despite a 40-mile convoy, Ukrainian soldiers have been able to repel some of the Russian invasion. According to reports, Russian forces captured several cities though key strongholds like the Black Sea port city of Odessa has been able to avoid Russian troops for now. The largest nuclear power plant in Europe was under siege and on fire putting a significant area at risk for a nuclear disaster.
Ukrainian officials and several news sources have estimated the number of refugees to exceed 1.45 million people. Still, the task is daunting and talks between President Vladimir Putin and President Volodymyr Zalensky for a ceasefire broke down this week.
The United Nations put a resolution to a vote condemning Russia’s actions. Just five nations voted against the resolution, this post explores collateral damage of the 35 nations that abstained from the vote.
Restrictions and Sanctions
The United States and the European Union have issued a raft of sanctions. Those nations along with Canada, Australia, and many others have closed airspace to Russian flights (note: this linked article is excellent.) This has essentially ended major international flights for Russia but has also adversely affected other countries that fly over the largest nation in the world as the Russian Federation reciprocated with a similar no-fly zone.
In the years since the end of the USSR, Russian investments have spread throughout the world further complicating a prohibition on Russian businesses.
Oil Prices and Cost Increases
Reuters estimates that the US imports 20.4MM barrles of oil (bbl) monthly or between 8-10% of all US oil imports (2021 data.) At the current price of $115/bbl, some have raised the point that the US is in essence financing Russia’s war with more than $28bn in annual revenue. The Biden Adminstration is said to be considering a ban on Russian oil imports which industry experts believe could push prices to $150/bbl.
“But even in the event of no sanctions on Russian oil, prices are set to remain very high and jump higher still because buyers and refiners are in a “self-sanctioning” mode, not daring to touch Russian crude and looking for alternative supplies.” – Oilprice.com
However, banning Russian oil will only ensure more pain at the pump which adversely affects travelers both through airline tickets as well as car travel. A Russian oil ban would also have knock-on effects throughout the wider economy due to higher costs of transportation for ordinary goods. That pushes airline ticket prices higher because of the supplies that feed those flights and doesn’t spare hotels, or taxis. The global economy has been besieged by 40-year high inflation levels, but now the absence of Russian oil will only compound the issue.
What can’t be understated is that demand for non-Russian oil as other countries reject Russian supply will push prices higher than any direct relationship to the loss of this one exporter due to scarcity of large volume providers with excess capacity.
Rerouting Flights Over Russian Air Space
Japan Airlines significantly altered a flight to New York to avoid Russian air space and cut some European flights. Finnair has stated its business model (connecting the United States and Europe to Asia) is “no longer economically sustainable.” United continued to fly over Russia (until this week) for Indian destinations which are now nearly impossible from the US west coast non-stop.
If the current restrictions remain in place, airlines and their customers are going to have to adapt. Some non-stop flights to Asia from the US east coast might make a technical stop in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Hawaii adding time and cost to the trip. Flights to the Inidian subcontinent might require a connection in southeast Asia, Africa, or Europe.
On the periphery of the Russia flight issue are countries that are not directly related to the conflict but may participate in some sort of a limited air space blockade. For example, if Cuba were to take a stronger stance with Russia and block European, Canadian, and US flights and airspace access, destinations like Jamaica, the Dutch Antilles, and the Cayman Islands would face serious additional cost and flight time. The same goes for Panama, Colombia, and Costa Rica in the Caribbean alone.
Moral Hazards of Traveling to Russian Partners
Nations that voted against the UN resolution are not likely to attract a great deal of travelers at the moment. Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria have cordoned themselves off from the world through support of the war in Ukraine. However, a number of other countries that abstained from the vote or have not taken actions against Russia could pose a moral hazard for travelers.
Here are some of the 35 countries that abstained from the resolution that travelers may reconsider visiting:
- South Africa
Other countries, notably Mexico, has announced it will not pursue sanctions and has not closed airspace to Russian flights. This, in essence, is a choice for tourism dollars over moral fortitude. Mexico voted for the resolution along with 140 other countries, but then remained as one of the few tourist destinations in the world with a red carpet remaining in place for Russian visitors.
The question this poses to me, is whether there is a moral obligation to avoid those places who have aligned or intentionally not aligned against my views.
As the Russia/Ukraine war continues into yet another bloody week, our prayers are with Ukraine. It’s more than a platitude for me, I have four Ukranian nieces and nephews, ties to the region, and nearly connected in Kyiv, Ukraine returning from Armenia. Foreign policy matters are for another writer to cover, but as they pertain to travel and the new map we are seeing drawn with additional challenges just as the world reopens, travel providers and travelers face a new world, or potentially a very 30-year-old one.
What do you think? Will travel fundamentally change (routes, time, and distance?) Will travelers punish a country’s neutrality? Should they or does that penalize local tourism providers caught in the crosshairs?