Living in Society

Ukraine Weekend

Kyiv, Ukraine on Feb. 12, 2022. Photo Credit – Matthew Luxmoore, Wall Street Journal.

Long-time readers of this blog know I could care less about the annual Super Bowl. The rest of the world is much more engaging.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, I would use the time as people made final preparations to view the game for shopping in almost deserted retail establishments. This year, I already provisioned for the next two weeks, so there’s nowhere to go. It’s one change among many in my post-pandemic behavior.

A reporter posted a photograph on Twitter of an almost deserted square in Kyiv, Ukraine. Ukrainians do not seem concerned with Russian troops massed at the border. The United States, European Union, and NATO are on high alert, waiting to see what happens in the way countries do when war seems imminent. The two situations are difficult to reconcile.

President Biden is planning a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin today. There may be a readout of the call and we’ll just have to wait to confirm there is and what it says. There is more to worry about if there is no readout or public statement. (The readout is here).

Ukraine’s exports have increased since 2016. It is a regional leader in production of wheat, corn, sunflower oil, and other agricultural products. They also export iron, steel, mining products, chemical products and machinery. If Ukraine is annexed by Russia, then it’s possible such exports could be directed internally rather than being sold in global markets. I believe the foodstuffs production is the main prize here.

It’s difficult to forget the Russian wheat crisis of 2010 when Russia stopped exporting wheat due to poor production made worse by climate change. Restricting wheat exports disrupted global markets and the food shortage was a contributing factor in the Arab Spring uprisings that followed. Annexing Ukraine would be good for Russian food supplies.

When we consider Ukraine in the context of the 2013 Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, a cornerstone of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy, annexation is a way for Russia to gain access to Ukraine’s production capacity without all the fuss of formal agreements. Russia is no China. The idea that the United States and European Union can rely on open markets to meet internal needs seems quaint in light of the direction Russia and China are taking.

As tensions rise in media depictions of evolving events, we wait. It’s an occasion to consider the broader world and how what happens in it affects our daily lives. It is a chance to gain an understanding of whether American pursuits are sustainable. Because of a media that serves corporate interests, we citizens are receiving a much distorted picture of what is going on in the world. We can’t be distracted by annual, meaningless rituals like the Super Bowl.