The year 2022 has ended, but Russian aggression against Ukraine continues. Of all the goals set at the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, only three have been achieved so far.
The first “achievement” is the seizure of Europe’s largest Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Station. Despite calls from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the international community, Russia continues to keep its troops, weapons, and ammunition at the station, occasionally threatening to blow it up, while putting the blame on the Ukrainians.
The second accomplishment was the capture of the North Crimean Canal. For decades, the canal has provided most the peninsula’s freshwater needs. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February 2014, the Ukrainian authorities blocked the canal, leading to a catastrophic lack of water on the peninsula until Russian troops invaded the Kherson region in March 2022 and regained control of the channel.
The latest achievement was the creation of a land corridor along the Sea of Azov. This corridor provides a transport connection between Russia and Crimea, removing the status of an “island” or enclave from the previously annexed Crimea by Russia.
According to many military and political experts, Ukraine will return these captured objects and territories in 2023.
However, this war finally revealed all the short-sightedness of Ukrainian political elites since Ukraine gained independence in 1991.
Apart from purely military mistakes, such as giving up nuclear weapons and transferring strategic bombers and missiles to Russia in exchange for supplies of natural gas, the political elites have failed to protect Ukraine from Russia in purely economic and infrastructural spheres.
One of the reasons for the rapid advance of Russian troops at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was the identical gauge of the Russian and Ukrainian railways, the history of which begins as early as the 19th century in the Russian Empire. The main movements of Russian ground troops are provided by railways.
In 30 years, the transition from the Russian (1,520 mm) to the European (1,435 mm) gauge was never made. Therefore, one of the most important tasks to prevent a repeat of the Russian invasion is the rapid reconstruction of the Ukrainian railway to the European gauge of 1.435 mm.
The Baltic countries and Finland must solve the same task, especially since there was information that initially Russia was considering a rapid invasion of the Baltic states, which could be completely occupied in a few days, long before NATO could somehow react to this aggression.
Despite the sad historical experience of the expansion of the Russian Empire, the USSR and Russia, investment projects for the construction of a railway with a 1,435 mm gauge from Vienna, Austria, to Moscow were seriously considered.
Similarly, the protection of transport communications across rivers could be provided by tunnels under rivers. Instead, preference was always given to the construction of bridges, which are easy targets for high-precision missiles. Russians also experienced this kind of infrastructural vulnerability when Ukrainian special operations forces blew the strategic bridge that connected Crimea with Russia across the Kerch strait.
Although there have been serious warnings about the planned invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine for six months to a year, practically no one in the agricultural sector has taken precautionary measures. For example, diversifying export routes.
The rapid development of ports on the Danube (Ust-Dunaisk, Kilia, Izmail, Reni) began only after the aggression. And even this route turned out to be vulnerable after the Russians destroyed the only road/railway bridge across the Dniester estuary in May 2022 that connected the south of the Odesa region with the Danube ports. The bridge has not yet been restored, which significantly complicates the logistical connection of the south of Odesa region with the rest of the regions of Ukraine. In most cases, cargo delivery to/from the Danube ports is carried out through the territory of Moldova.
The rapid development of exporting Ukrainian agricultural products to EU countries in 2022 relates to the help of EU countries in the form of temporary facilitations and removal of many restrictions (including quotas, as well as veterinary and phytosanitary requirements) on the export and transit of agricultural products from Ukraine. It is not known whether these benefits will remain for exporters of Ukrainian agricultural products after the end of the war.
The main problem in the agricultural sector, which has not been solved for decades, is the anticipatory development of the production of raw materials, rather than processing, against the background of an increasing share of agricultural products in the structure of total exports. The bet was made on the cultivation of grains and oilseeds. At the same time, very little attention was paid to the development of the processing of fruits, berries, and vegetables.
For more than 30 years of independence, Ukraine’s agricultural image has not developed further as one of the world’s largest exporters of cereals, unrefined sunflower oil, and apple juice concentrate, which are not branded products. Unlike global brands such as Scotch, Irish, American, and Canadian whiskey, French, Californian, South African or Australian wines, Italian pasta, Irish or Belgian beer, Italian or Swiss cheeses, Belgian or Swiss chocolate, Italian prosciutto or Spanish Jamón, branded Ukrainian products cannot be found in Western supermarket chains. Sometimes Ukrainian products can be found in specialized stores of exotic, oriental, Caucasian, or Russian food products, in which the Ukrainian diaspora buys products of traditional Ukrainian cuisine, such as buckwheat groats, canned fish in tomato sauce, canned vegetables, jams, chocolate, vodka, etc.
Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Mexican, and Brazilian restaurants can be found in all developed countries. You can also find McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, etc. restaurants all over the world, but there are few Ukrainian restaurants abroad.
Restoration of Ukraine
After the end of the war, Ukraine faces a difficult period of recovery. Many Ukrainian cities were destroyed, and they cannot be rebuilt. Many plants of the metallurgical and chemical industry were destroyed, and many infrastructure and logistics facilities, including seaports, were destroyed and damaged. Also, many farms have been looted, destroyed, and animals killed.
This means that there are huge opportunities for investors. However, these possibilities can be realized only under the condition of fundamental changes in the political, judicial, and law enforcement spheres, aimed at overcoming corruption, the cases of which are not isolated even in war conditions when the whole country is bleeding.
About the Author: Iurii Mykhaylov is an agricultural journalist in Ukraine.