Suddenly countries that we never spend much time thinking about are on the front lines of an epic struggle between an anachronistic, totalitarian regime – which also happens to be running the world’s largest country by land mass – and a western European economy built on a consumer growth influenced by various levels of socialism. It was never unlikely that a conflict would eventually erupt between these power spheres, but the limits of western democratic “Sense and Sensibility” failed to prevent the Russian government led by Vladimir Putin from exercising an unprovoked assault on the periphery of western Europe.
Both Russia and Ukraine are large producers and exporters of key food items, minerals and energy: Ukraine is also a major transit corridor for the Russian energy exports which so many neighbouring countries are reliant upon. The war has already resulted in sizeable economic and financial shocks, particularly in commodity markets, with the prices of oil, gas and wheat soaring. This does not bode well for the world.
The war has now unified Europe to make efforts to minimise the dependence on Russia for key energy imports and the long-term damage to Russian energy exports will be irreparable.
But if the Kremlin believes energy can be used to support its foreign policy goals, what about food as well?
In terms of what happens next with Russian foreign policy aggression, one need only look at the last 100 years of Eastern European history. The Holodomor ‘to kill by starvation’, also known as the Terror-Famine or the Great Famine, was a Stalinist policy carried out in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. The Russians weaponised famine to attempt to implement foreign obedience.
This Stalin era policy seems to be playing out once again as part of a Russian subjugation attempt on the people of the Ukraine resisting Russian occupation The war in Ukraine will certainly have an impact on food supplies and agricultural exports.
Potentially, the combination of reducing Ukraine agriculture output and Russian leverage as the largest wheat-producing country in the world – Russia produced 39.5 million metric tons of wheat in 2020 – could have far great consequences than the weaponisation of energy, as there really is no alternative to food. A scarcity resulting in higher prices, combined with cyber disinformation and destabilisation campaigns could radically alter the current posture of countries highly dependent on keeping agricultural commodities at a low price. Nothing is more dangerous to any type of government than the starving mob.
Our White Paper on this can be accessed here (gated content)