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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, October 31st, 2022

Six factors that could impact the trajectory of Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine

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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