Russia & Ukraine: Gentle Decline Special Edition
People have been asking about what to do with regard to Russia & Ukraine. Here's an attempt at an answer, or at least a starting point.
Hello. This is a (short) special edition, because I’ve had a number of people in various different media ask, “What should we do if Russia invades Ukraine?”. Wars are very much not my area of expertise. I deal with food history and climate, verging over into trade and supply lines, both historical and modern. I’ve avoided military history as much as possible. But wars do, generally, have an impact on supply lines. So I can talk about that. I hope that answers people’s questions, to some degree. Realistically it’s probably better to do your own thinking about this, rather than outsource it to a food historian and shouter-about-climate. But treat this as a starting point.
There’s the side question of “Will Russia invade Ukraine?”, and that’s… completely out of my wheelhouse. But I’ve been reading around, and the general opinion of most of the people I respect seems to be that it’s nigh-on inevitable. The preparations Russia has been making are expensive and inconvenient, and there’s little enough to be had for them from bluffing. You don’t gather thousands of soldiers, with all their equipment, from various parts of a very large country, as well as moving in ships and planes and so on, in January and February in a cold part of the world, without having firm intentions. The general idea seems to be that as soon as the Winter Olympics are over - “because Russia”, said one contact - the tanks start to roll. We’ll see how that comes out.
Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO, although it’s somewhere in the process of joining. Russia is very firm on the idea that it should not be, but also doesn’t get any say in it; that’s one of the reasons they’re looking to invade. Indeed, Ukraine is also due to apply to join the EU in 2024; a general movement out of the Russian sphere of influence. So if Russia invades, NATO is not yet obliged to respond. NATO may, however, want to respond, because while Ukraine isn’t a member yet, they need to show support. So it’s complicated.
(This terrible summary of the situation brought to you by someone who has, again, avoided military history as much as possible. But you get the gist.)
For more detail, take a look here:
and also here, an additional commentary on the thread above:
Dmitri Alperovitch @DAlperovitchI’ve been convinced since mid December that the RU invasion of UKR is very likely. But I recognize that a lot of people disagree (not least of all, many in UKR government — at least publicly) It is always good to reevaluate your assumptions so let’s red team the alternatives 🧵
From my side of things, there are two outcomes: NATO chunters and grumbles, but doesn’t do anything, or NATO responds with military force. Since Russia has already annexed Crimea (generally held by the rest of the world to still be a part of Ukraine), and NATO has done nothing but chunter, my guess is currently on the former. Certainly, there’ll be a gap before there’s any response from the alliance.
So in supply lines, and in the short term, the issues are goods coming from Ukraine, and goods coming from Russia. Ukraine supplies a lot of raw materials, and not an awful lot of manufactured goods - some machinery, mostly in the heavier steel end of things. So there’s not a lot of consumer impact there. Goods coming from Russia include gas supplies, though, and that’s a concern. If Russia stops supplying gas to Europe - and that’s a definite possibility - then prices are going to rocket. Japan, for example, is already diverting ships carrying gas from the US to Europe, so it’s pretty clear they think there’s going to be a market.
(Image from Who is the biggest trading partner of Ukraine?, empr.media)
A lot of households in Ireland and the UK depend on gas for heating, and so do a lot of commercial premises. A smaller number use it for cooking as well (and many professional kitchens in restaurants, hotels, and takeaways). It’s unlikely that gas will be completely unavailable; it is moderately to very likely that the price of it will go up a long way. So that’s going to be one of the very first things to look at: do you have a non-gas way to heat your home and/or workplace? If you haven’t got other options (wood-burning stove or fireplace, oil heating, electrical heating), then it’s worthwhile getting an electrical heater or two. You can unplug them when you don’t need them, and you can move them around the house to wherever they’re needed.
If eventually NATO does move in, then we have a hot war the like of which we haven’t had in about three generations. I know two things about 21st century hot wars. One, I know almost nothing and should shut up, and two, supply lines will be affected, because they’re the most delicate bit of our modern civilisation, and they’re already pretty shaky. Usefully, many companies are looking at shortening them, getting goods previously manufactured in China or Korea or Vietnam produced in Europe (for European firms) or the Americas (for American firms). Less than usefully, that’ll take years to spin up fully, and the Ukraine situation is happening now.
But: if supply lines are in trouble, you have to depend on what’s local. For Ireland, that’s broadly ok for a few months; we might not get much in the way of new electronics, but we won’t starve. The UK is less well off. So refer back to my long-ago issue on stockpiling, most of which applies pretty neatly.
My readers are mostly in Ireland, the UK and the US. Ireland is “neutral”, which means we won’t be directly involved in any war in the near future. The UK and US are both very definitely members of NATO. It’s not easy for Russia to reach the US without missiles; the UK is slightly more within reach. In a hot war situation, people in the UK might be advised to move out of the bigger cities, even temporarily, so it’s worth keeping that in mind.
No ads or promos in this issue; it seems a bit gauche. Feel absolutely free to forward this on to anyone to whom it might be of interest or use.