Ukraine’s geography and economy appealing for Russia

Commentary

Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist
Video Library |

Ukraine’s geography largely mimics a key American system for exports. As geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan contends, that makes Ukraine appealing for Russia from an economic standpoint and explains why the Russians continue pummeling Ukraine.

Ukraine in many ways is like the American Midwest. It has a big river going through its most productive territory. So in the United States, that’s the Mississippi–allows for all of the grain- and soy-producing states to export their stuff at low cost out to New Orleans. In Ukraine, it’s the Dnieper–serves the same purpose. Everything goes down the river and is ultimately repackaged at Odessa for shipment to the wider world. 

For Russia though, it doesn’t work that way. Russia only has one river that flows south. That is the Volga and it dead ends in the Caspian Sea, which is a landlocked lake. The north flowing rivers, the Ob for example, have a different problem.

One, they flow to the Arctic, and no one lives there. Two, in winter, the rivers flow from the mouth to the source rather than the other way around. And when your river is flowing into ice, it breaks up the ice. It pushes the ice ahead of it until there’s too much ice. And then the ice gets, by its mere weight, gets pushed down to the river bed and it forms an ice dam. Ice dams can last a long time and you get massive floods as the river overflows its banks. And it does this in Russia, every fall, moving into winter, all winter along, and then especially in the spring melt, ’cause then it melts from the source to the mouth instead of the other way around. And the water has nowhere to go.

So most of the flood plains in most of the world are used for agriculture. In Russia, not necessarily because it’s a death trap. It means that Russia knows that its internal distribution is crap, and Russia knows it can’t sell any excess production to the wider world, ’cause it’s hard to get it out.

But Ukraine can. Ukraine is the most productive land in the Russian sphere of influence. They have huge agricultural surpluses, a fair number of metals, some coal, other chemicals…and it can all get out easily. And once it’s to the Black Sea, it can go to Turkey or through the Turkish Straits to Europe and the wider world.

For Russia, it’s never been that easy. So Ukraine has always been a territory that the Russians have grabbed onto very tightly. And now that Ukraine is making a reasonable go at being independent and even doing well in the war, the Russians feel they have to destroy all of that.

Hey everyone. Hello from Colorado where it is spring. It’s gonna be 75 degrees today. And then in three days we’re gonna get two inches of snow because mountains.

Today, I wanted to talk about Ukraine from an economic point of view. Now all the strategic issue that has been in most of my updates stands.

The Russians still need to plug those geographic gateways that allow access to their territory. So they still need to get all of Ukraine and then continue on. And the Russian population is still dying out, and this is their last chance to do so. All of that’s true, all of that stands, but there’s an economic issue underlying it that is worth exploring because it means that the Russians are going to be a little bit more brutal than they would otherwise need to be.

Ukraine in many ways is like the American Midwest. It has a big river going through its most productive territory. So in the United States, that’s the Mississippi, allows for all of the grain and soy producing states to export their stuff at low cost out to New Orleans. In Ukraine, it’s the Dnieper, serves the same purpose. Everything goes down the river and is ultimately repackaged at Odessa for shipment to the wider world. That means that from an American economic point of view, Ukraine make sense.

For Russia though, it doesn’t work that way. Russia only has one river that flows south. That is the Volga and it dead ends in the Caspian Sea, which is a landlocked lake. The north flowing rivers, the Ob for example, have a different problem.

One, they flow to the Arctic and no one lives there. So any sort of shipment has very roundabout. Two, in winter, the rivers flow from the mouth to the source rather than the other way around. And when your river is flowing into ice, it breaks up the ice. It pushes the ice ahead of it until there’s too much ice. And then the ice gets, by it’s mere weight, gets pushed down to the river bed and it forms an ice dam. Ice dams can last a long time and you get massive floods as the river overflows its banks. And it does this in Russia, every fall, moving into winter, all winter along, and then especially in the spring melt, cuz then it melts from the source to the mouth instead of the other way around.

And the water has nowhere to. So most of the flood Plains in most of the world are used for agriculture. In Russia, not necessarily because it’s a death trap. There’s actually a bit of a competition among the folks in the Russian military about who gets to go out and use 500 pound bombs on the ice dams to try to free up the rivers.

Now what this means in terms of the Russian empire, and you do need to think of Russia as an empire. It expands, it expands, expands until it hits those gateways, and all the countries that it expands through are occupied peoples. That’s, that’s an empire. That’s not a Republic. That’s not a democracy. It means that Russia knows that its internal distribution is crap, and Russia knows it can’t sell any excess production to the wider world, cuz it’s hard to get it out.

But Ukraine can, Ukraine is the most productive land in the Russian sphere of influence. They have huge agricultural surpluses, a fair number of metals, some coal, other chemicals. And it can all get out easily. And once it’s to the Black Sea, it can go to Turkey or through the Turkish Straits to Europe and the wider world.

For Russia, it’s never been that easy. So Ukraine has always been a territory that the Russians have grabbed onto very tightly. And now that Ukraine is making a reasonable go at being independent and even doing well in the war, the Russians feel they have to destroy all of that.

So the civilian infrastructure obliteration strategy that the Russians started about six weeks ago, it is, is continuing. We know that what happened in Bucha with the atrocities there have been replicated in at least 70 places in other places that the Russians occupy.

They’re in the process of doing that in Mariupol right now, the infrastructure is going to go because if the infrastructure goes then a modern industrialized society can’t exist. And ultimately that is like a secondary goal for the Russians compared to the security stuff. But it’s very, very much front of mind. Okay. The that’s everything for me until next time.

 

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