Edi­tor’s Note: Vladimir Putin’s mur­der­ous war of aggres­sion in Ukraine is very flu­id, vio­lent, and fre­quent­ly star­tling. NPI will try to err on the side of cau­tion when evi­dence behind claims or state­ments are lacking.

It’s easy to believe, giv­en how most of the media por­trays Putin’s war of aggres­sion against the peo­ple of Ukraine, that mil­i­tary activ­i­ty alone will decide its out­come. While com­bat will def­i­nite­ly have an effect, there are oth­er fac­tors that may be as impor­tant, if not more so.


When Rus­sia began its inva­sion of Ukraine on Feb­ru­ary 24th, Russ­ian war­ships attacked Ukrain­ian Black Sea ports such as Odessa.

Ukraine respond­ed with the deploy­ment of nau­ti­cal mines. Both actions, tak­en togeth­er, meant that Ukrain­ian Black Sea ports could­n’t be used to export Ukrain­ian grain. While Ukraine has attempt­ed to make use of rail lines and the Danube Riv­er as alter­na­tives, both have had their share of com­pli­ca­tions.

On July 22nd, The Unit­ed Nations and Turkey facil­i­tat­ed a deal between Rus­sia and Ukraine, the Black Sea Grain Ini­tia­tive, to allow both sides to export grain and fer­til­iz­er through both nations’ Black Sea com­mer­cial ports with­out inci­dent, renew­able every 120 days. Inspec­tions would ensure that weapons and ammu­ni­tion would not be import­ed into Ukraine and that Ukrain­ian grain con­fis­cat­ed by the Rus­sians as a result of its inva­sion would not be exported.

It also required that insur­ance under­writ­ers and ship­ping com­pa­nies felt con­fi­dent that they con­sid­ered the deal viable enough in which to participate.

Russ­ian mis­siles struck Odessa’s port a day after sign­ing the agreement.

Ukraine has accused Rus­sia of smug­gling Ukrain­ian grain by var­i­ous means, but save for one Russ­ian ves­sel being held for a time at a Turk­ish port, no grain on Russ­ian ships in the Black Sea has been both halt­ed and confiscated.

Rus­sia has also been accused of delay­ing the pas­sage of ships ful­fill­ing Ukrain­ian con­tracts such that, as of Octo­ber 21st, accord­ing to the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment, there were 150 ships queued up and wait­ing to ini­ti­ate their pas­sage through Russ­ian-con­trolled waters. In spite of all this, over nine mil­lion tons of Ukrain­ian grain have been suc­cess­ful­ly trans­port­ed out of the Black Sea.

Ear­ly in the morn­ing of Octo­ber 29th, there was an attack on Russ­ian naval ves­sels in the Crimean port of Sev­astopol that may have dam­aged at least three Russ­ian Navy ves­sels, includ­ing the Black Sea Fleet’s flag­ship, the Admi­ral Makarov. Rus­sia dis­agreed with the lev­el of dam­age report­ed by the west­ern news media, but announced on the same day that “The Russ­ian side can­not guar­an­tee the safe­ty of civil­ian dry car­go ships par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ‘Black Sea ini­tia­tive’ and sus­pends its imple­men­ta­tion from today on indef­i­nite period.”

Grain, cook­ing oil and fer­til­iz­er from both Ukraine and Rus­sia are essen­tial to most of the Mid­dle East, East Africa and South Asia in particular.

At least 25% of wheat exports in Bangladesh, Egypt, Indone­sia and Pak­istan have in the past come from Ukraine. East Africa through Bangladesh have dealt with an arc of a severe locust infes­ta­tion since 2019, which has dam­aged their abil­i­ty to raise food with­in their own nations, inten­si­fy­ing the need for food imports. 

A sec­ond locust infes­ta­tion struck the East­ern Cape of South Africa in May of of this year.  A very hot and dry sum­mer in south­ern Europe this year has result­ed in the worst record­ed drought in the last five centuries.

Deny­ing Ukraine hard cur­ren­cy from grain exports is one of the few ways Rus­sia can effec­tive­ly harm Ukraine dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly com­pared to any “blow­back” on Rus­sia that isn’t already hap­pen­ing due to exist­ing trade sanc­tions against it.

While Turkey, Unit­ed Nations and, to a less­er extent, the Euro­pean Union try to bring Rus­sia back into the Black Sea Grain Ini­tia­tive, as of Octo­ber 31, Turk­ish naval ves­sels have start­ed escort­ing ships with Ukrain­ian con­tracts out of the

Petroleum gas 

Rus­sia had antic­i­pat­ed being able to con­vince the nations of the Euro­pean Union to not get involved in the attempt­ed inva­sion of Ukraine, then lat­er forc­ing them to demand that Ukraine reach a nego­ti­at­ed set­tle­ment with Rus­sia, due to its reliance on Russ­ian petro­le­um gas.

In response to such threats and Rus­sia slow­ly reduc­ing access to its petro­le­um gas over time, the Euro­pean Union has been work­ing on renew­ables, demand reduc­tion and mak­ing use of alter­na­tive importers, such as the Unit­ed States, Qatar, west Africa, Nor­way, Alge­ria and Azer­bai­jan. But we real­ly won’t know what’s work­ing and what’s not until the win­ter arrives in full force.


On Octo­ber 27th, Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin gave a speech which empha­sized that Rus­sia was a defend­er of a “ris­ing nations with­in a mul­ti-polar world” and of tra­di­tion­al Chris­t­ian val­ues, that the West was los­ing its dom­i­nance and “quick­ly becom­ing a minor­i­ty on the world stage,” and that the Unit­ed States could end the war quick­ly by demand­ing that Ukraine seek a peace­ful settlement.

Putin’s com­ments were in large part for the Glob­al South, and while some don’t entire­ly find it be as effec­tive as it has been vaunt­ed to be, it has been around for decades and has a reach that should­n’t be sim­ply ignored.

While lead­ers such as Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron have attempt­ed to counter such mes­sag­ing, resent­ment and depen­den­cy in var­i­ous forms still exist.

Espe­cial­ly in west­ern Africa, there is still much resent­ment over the 2011 NATO attack and swift with­draw­al from Libya, which result­ed in the death of Muam­mar el-Gadaf­fi and the down­fall of his government.

It also result­ed a bloody civ­il war and, even­tu­al­ly, a refuge for Islamist forces that have tra­versed to and ter­ror­ized civil­ians in north­ern Nige­ria, Chad, Mali, Niger and Burk­i­na Faso. And before that, there was the Unit­ed States’ inva­sion of Iraq, which was in con­tra­ven­tion of inter­na­tion­al law.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but there is still skep­ti­cism that the Unit­ed States only cares about inter­na­tion­al law when it suits them.

Fur­ther, while Ukraine has been effec­tive at acquir­ing sup­port from the Unit­ed States and NATO, they haven’t used their exist­ing trade rela­tion­ships with the Glob­al South to pro­vide effec­tive counter-mes­sag­ing to Russ­ian claims.

They also have neglect­ed por­tray­ing their eco­nom­ic sta­tus before the war as a “cousin” who has suf­fered from many of the same prob­lems the nations of the Glob­al South endure, or that they are now a vic­tim of Russ­ian impe­ri­al­ism, akin to the Glob­al South’s suf­fer­ing under West­ern imperialism.

Eco­nom­i­cal­ly, much of the Glob­al South needs Russ­ian grain, food oils and fer­til­iz­er as they do such prod­ucts from Ukraine.

India still relies on Rus­sia for most of their arms sales, and as an ally in their cor­ner in their present dis­agree­ments with China.

Many nations haven’t embraced the exist­ing Russ­ian sanc­tions, though many steer clear of direct­ly vio­lat­ing them. For exam­ple, with­in Latin Amer­i­ca, because the present trade sanc­tions against Rus­sia were not val­i­dat­ed or approved by the Unit­ed Nations, Mex­i­co and Brazil have spo­ken out against them and the Bahamas is the only Orga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States mem­ber out­side of the Unit­ed States that has approved of them publicly.

General Mud and General Winter

The mud­dy sea­son in Ukraine, Beal­rus and west­ern Rus­sia, known in Ukrain­ian as Bez­dorizhzhya and in Russ­ian as Rrasputit­sa, slowed down the Russ­ian advance into Ukraine dur­ing the spring of this year, forc­ing much of its attacks around viable roads. It could do the same and slow down the Ukrain­ian advance into the Kher­son Oblast in the south­west and the Luhan­sk oblast in the southeast. 

But a greater con­cern is the damp cold that accom­pa­nies it. The Russ­ian mil­i­tary has been fir­ing mis­siles into Ukrain­ian civil­ian infra­struc­ture time and again in hopes that a lack of pow­er, potable water or access to basic hygiene over time will cause Ukrain­ian civil­ians to sue for peace (though that may not hap­pen).

That same Russ­ian mil­i­tary has been send­ing poor­ly to not at all trained and equipped troops from its most recent mobi­liza­tion into the front lines of bat­tle.  While there may be hopes of a “spir­it of Smolen­sk” among the Russ­ian offi­cer corps, where both in 1812 and 1941 invaders were delayed long enough by con­tin­u­ous­ly send­ing who­ev­er was avail­able to bat­tle for the tables to turn, the fact is that who­ev­er sur­vives among these new­ly mobi­lized con­scripts will spread fear as they retreat — and fear is hard to stop once it has enough momentum. 

Gener­al Win­ter, with snow and greater cold, could exac­er­bate all of these dynam­ics further.

The midterm elections in the United States

While Repub­li­can House Minor­i­ty Leader Kevin McCarthy backed away from ini­tial com­ments that fund­ing for Ukraine might be reduced or with­drawn if the Repub­li­cans gain a major­i­ty in Con­gress this Novem­ber, Repub­li­cans most behold­en to Don­ald Trump for their polit­i­cal futures have made it clear that they will fol­low his direc­tion if he con­tin­ues to state that Ukraine’s future aid should be depen­dent on their will­ing­ness to come to the nego­ti­a­tion table.

If the Repub­li­cans secure majori­ties in the House or Sen­ate, the result could be a stalled Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary and time that Pres­i­dent Putin needs to force an end to the war on his terms, while he rebuilds for the next phase of the conflict.


Dur­ing the same Octo­ber 27th speech, Pres­i­dent Putin not­ed that he him­self had direct­ed that NATO and Amer­i­can offi­cials be told of Ukraine’s plans to build and use a “dirty bomb” — a device that uses con­ven­tion­al high explo­sives to spread radioac­tive mate­r­i­al into the sur­round­ing area.

Mem­bers of the Euro­pean Union, NATO and the Unit­ed States have declared such com­ments to be trans­par­ent­ly false state­ments, but the greater con­cern is that the Rus­sians might cre­ate an inci­dent at the occu­pied com­mer­cial nuclear plant at Zapor­izhzhia or make use of nuclear mate­r­i­al at the plant to det­o­nate such a device and blame it on the Ukrainians.

How the West and neu­tral par­ties to the con­flict would respond to either option isn’t cer­tain, but it would like­ly be seen as noth­ing less than a cat­a­stro­phe with an over­whelm­ing response by NATO and the Euro­pean Union.

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