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On the ground in Ukraine: what it means for agriculture

Russia’s occupation would collapse Ukraine’s agricultural sector, writer says.

KYIV, Ukraine – Before 1721, present-day Russia was called the Muscovite kingdom. 

After the inclusion of a number of lands of the former Kyivan Rus (a medieval political federation) into the Muscovite kingdom, the Russian King Peter I changed the name of the Muscovite kingdom to the Russian Empire. 

Since then, the name Russia, in various forms, has been used. The present official name of Russia is the Russian Federation.

Russia considers itself as the legitimate heir of Kyivan Rus on the claim that officially Moscow was founded in 1147 by the contender for the Kyiv throne – prince Yuri Dolgorukiy. He was called Dolgorukiy (or the Long Arm meaning “far-reaching”) because he was only the sixth son of the reigning Kyiv prince Vladimir Monomakh. At the age of 59, he nevertheless became the prince of Kyiv. His tomb is in Kyiv.

Kyiv is Moscow’s focus because it is in Kyiv that the prince Vladimir the Great baptized his kingdom into the Orthodox Christianity.

So, without Kyiv, Russia feels itself as flawed or imperfect. This means that Russia is the existential threat to Ukraine.

The idea that there is no Russia without Ukraine in recent times first was expressed by the Bolsheviks leader Lenin in 1918, substantiating the invasion of the Red Army troops into Ukraine, which shortly before that gained independence as a result of the Russian October Revolution of 1917.

But at that time, the need for the occupation of Ukraine was due to the economic dependence of Russia on the industrial and agricultural potential of Ukraine.

At the moment, the desire to subjugate Ukraine is dictated more by geopolitical interests, although the ability to control and manage the 40 million people of Ukraine with the possibility of transferring some of it to the Far East is also the agenda in modern Russia. The territory from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains, that is the European part of Russia, is home to 120 million people while throughout the entire territory from the Urals to Kamchatka, it is a home to only 20 million. 

This means almost all of Siberia is not protected from possible China annexation, which considers these territories as historically her own.

Putin considers the collapse of the Soviet Union as the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, ignoring two very devastating world wars: WWI and WWII.

Therefore, in his head there is the idea of ​​restoring Russia within the borders of the Russian empire of 1914, that is, including Poland, Finland, and the Baltic states and all the republics that seceded from the USSR after its collapse, including Ukraine.

Thus, Russia’s attempts to appropriate the history of ancient Russia actually are claims on the territory of the present-day Ukraine, and these are the existential threats to the very existence of Ukraine and therefore it should be considered as permanent.

A military invasion

At the moment, it will be extremely difficult for Russia to find a convincing pretext or explanation of the need for the intervention since Ukraine does not pose a military threat to Russia; there are no NATO military bases or foreign nuclear weapons on its territory.

Nevertheless, the Russian invasion is possible.

Information about a possible invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine is based on the consideration by the Russian Parliament of the possibility to recognize the independence of the territories controlled by the separatists in the South-East Ukraine and subsequently incorporating these territories into Russia. 

From this point of view, the Ukrainian-Russian border will become longer by about 400 kilometers, which at the moment is about 3,000 kilometers. The deployment of Russian troops through these new territories will pose an even greater danger to Ukraine.

The 100,000 troops along the Russia-Ukraine border is practically stable since 2015.

According to Ukrainian military experts, a contingent of 100,000 troops is not enough for a large-scale invasion, given the length of the Ukrainian-Russian border. According to the Ukrainian military experts, for a full-scale invasion a force of at least 500,000 people is needed, in addition, up to 4 million may be required to hold the territory occupied.

In addition, it will be required to establish military administrations to control the population, as well as to provide the population with food and public services, which, given the population of Ukraine, can be very burdensome for the Russian economy.

Russia will need to provide troops with weapons and military equipment, including fuel and ammunition. This means the availability of strategic reserves and reliable logistics, including on the occupied territories.

One of the indicators of Russia’s preparation for the invasion is the number of mobile hospitals being deployed and the speed of staffing medical units. At present, there is no evidence of the readiness of medical facilities to participate in a possible incursion of the Russian armed forces.

Russia’s motivation

One of the Putin’s main reasons to invade Ukraine in addition to grab Kyiv as “mother of all Rus cities” may be the desire to seize the Kherson region to resume the supply of fresh water to the annexed Crimea.

The other reasons may include the occupation of the strategic mining, industrial, and energy producing regions in the East and Central Ukraine such as Kharkiv, Dnipro, Zaporozhzhia, Kryvyi Rih, and Mariupil.

Yet another reason may include the complete control of the natural gas transportation system by which Russian natural gas is pumped to Central and Western Europe through the Ukrainian territory.

To accelerate the surrender of Ukraine, it will be highly desirable for Putin to grab all the south coast of Ukraine, including the strategic ports on the Black Sea, thus effectively cutting off Ukraine from international trade. As an alternative to occupation of the Ukrainian Black Sea ports, Russia may introduce their blockage. This measure may be countered with the help of fleets from supportive countries.

The war between Russia and Ukraine may take the form of hackers’ attacks on critical government and industrial infrastructure.

On the night of January 14, 2022, assumedly Russian hackers hacked several government websites, including the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the digital platform “Action” (the digital government).

The economic, humanitarian consequences

Though at the moment there is no panic among the Ukrainian population, the situation may dramatically change with the beginning of military actions.

Without the active military conflict between Russia and Ukraine there is and will be no impact on the agricultural production in Ukraine as it has had no impact since annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In the event Russia occupies Ukraine, the entire economy of Ukraine collapses. This includes agriculture with the collapse of production, input supplies, and logistics chains. Accordingly, there will be no agricultural exports in any significant volumes, and this collapse may continue for an undefined period of time.

Undoubtedly, the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine will constitute a force majeure for exporters and importers, which will cause huge damage to world trade and therefore one of the reasons why Western countries and other countries importing Ukrainian products might have to interfere with Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine.

Even the rumors of possible Russian invasion have a negative effect on agricultural markets. In mid-January, the shares of the biggest Ukrainian enterprises dropped about 17% on the exchanges in Warsaw and London.

This may further exacerbate the financial condition of the agricultural producers considering the rising cost of inputs – natural gas, fuel, seed, and fertilizer – due to the devaluation of the Ukrainian currency and the increasing price of natural gas and oil in the world.

At the moment, there is no evidence that Ukrainian farmers plan to change their acreage plans for the coming season.

Ukraine’s major crop growing seasons are similar to the U.S. schedule of April-October. 

The Russian invasion may have a big impact on the neighboring countries in the form of the huge wave of refugees. Including Russia, Ukraine shares a border with Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. The number of refugees may be counted in millions of people.

Another concern is the Ukrainian nuclear power stations. The damage to the Ukrainian nuclear reactors (15 in all at four nuclear plants) may cause global tension.

Some Ukrainian military experts consider the possibility of blowing out the natural gas transportation system, thus cutting off Russia from the European consumers. In the cold winter months, this may cause a humanitarian catastrophe in Europe.

No picnic for Russia’s troops

Ukraine is not completely defenseless. Some Western countries began the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine and also provide training of the Ukrainian military personnel.

In contrast to 2014 when the Ukrainian army was practically nonoperational, today’s army has experience in military operations due to the continuing conflict with the separatists in South-East Ukraine.

So, the Russian troops may face big losses during land operations.

While Russia may use its aviation to bomb Ukrainian military unions, the bombing of the cities may cause huge civilian losses that will not be tolerable to the world.

Since the annexation of Crimea and support of the Russian military of the separatists in South-East Ukraine, the self-identity of people as Ukrainian patriots sharply increased, especially among youths.

The polls show that the majority of the population will actively oppose a Russian invasion including various forms of volunteers and guerrilla movements.

It’s important to remember that resistance to the troops of the Red Army in Western Ukraine continued for another 15 years after the end of World War II. In our time, this resistance will be much stronger and longer.

In recent days, Ukraine has started a campaign to put females on military record and provide military training of the citizens. There is also a proposition to open military stocks to civilians.

In the event of an invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine, a general mobilization will certainly be announced and arms will be distributed to the population. This means that even if the territory of Ukraine is occupied, there will be serious underground resistance in the cities.

The endgame 

Considering all of the above, but in no way a complete list of actions and consequences, one may conclude that Putin’s adventure will have catastrophic consequences for not only Ukraine but neighboring countries as well.

The situation is very like the one of 1938, when attempts to talk out Hitler of his plans failed and the world lived through the biggest disaster in its history.

The international opposition may put an end to Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine in its germ state.


Iurii Mykhailov is an agricultural journalist in Ukraine. He is a contributor to Successful Farming.

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