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End of Black Sea grain deal hints at Russia’s next move in Ukraine


Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist


Ukraine’s spring offensive against Russia could begin at any moment but the Russians have plans of their own. Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan expects Moscow to turn away from Ukraine’s power grid and focus its attention to agricultural infrastructure. He warns that the Russians going after Ukraine’s grain exports — including not renewing the Black Sea grain deal — would represent a crippling blow to the global food supply.

Excerpted from Peter’s May 9 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

The headlines of the week are all looking at the “imminent Ukrainian counterattack,” and while there are many reasons to expect action from both sides….let’s focus on the inevitables for today. We’ve seen the Russians struggling to hit their targets thanks to upgrades to the Ukrainian defense capabilities. So we’ll likely see the Russians pivot from targeting power infrastructure to something new…

While not perfect, the Black Sea export initiative did have some successes. By the EU’s counting, some 23 million tons of grain — mostly corn and wheat — were exported, helping the Ukrainians clear the backlog of their bumper 2020/2021 harvest. But the good news ends there. Ukraine has lost at least 15% of its grain storage capacity to the war, and much of its sunflower-crushing facilities are either inaccessible due to occupation or loss of infrastructure or destroyed. This means Kyiv, when able, will likely have to focus on exporting bulk sunflower seeds rather than higher-value sunflower oil.

Unfortunately, the Black Sea grain export deal brokered by the UN and Turks expires May 18th and is unlikely to be revived anytime soon. Expect the Russians to switch their focus to agricultural infrastructure. Targets like this are much harder to defend, and this will likely mark the beginning of the end of any meaningful food exports coming out of Ukraine.

On the Ukrainian side, they have all the supplies and weaponry ready to launch a counter-offensive, but there’s still a few feet of mud keeping anything from happening. I wouldn’t expect a ton of action from either side this month, but it’s coming soon. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the minimum victory cases for each side.

Hey everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado. It is the ninth of May. And all talk is about the imminent attack, counter attack of the Ukrainians against Russian forces across the length and breadth of Ukraine. There are a lot of reasons to expect a lot of action. And we’re going to have to break this up into chunks. Today, we’re gonna do talk about the stuff that we know is inevitable. We’ve seen significant improvements in Ukrainian air defense to the point that over 90% of the missiles and drones that the Russians have been falling with firing in have not been able to hit their targets, which is, you know, great if you are in Ukraine, because they’ve been targeting the power grid. However, once it becomes apparent that the Ukrainians are going to move, and once it becomes apparent that the weather is warm enough that targeting the power sector isn’t going to kill any civilians in Ukraine, the Russians are going to switch their targets to facilities that are more difficult to defend, and that is the agricultural supply chain system. So on the 18th, there is a deal that lapses, the Turks in the United Nations have brokered a deal between Ukraine and Russia that allows civilian bulk trade shipping vessels to get into Ukrainian ports, after being searched by the Russians load up with Ukrainian, corn, wheat, sunflower and other stuff. And they get reinspected on their way out just to make sure that they’re not smuggling anything in such as say, weapons. The Russians have been warning for weeks, if not months, that they’re backing away from the deal. And they’re definitely not going to be renewing it next week, when it becomes up for renewal, because they need to switch target sets. In the past, they’ve gone for the power grid, because that’s how you kill people in Ukraine in the winter. But once you get to summer, you have to starve them. And this is probably going to be the end of meaningful agricultural exports from Ukraine. They’re gonna go for ships, they’re gonna go for ports, they’re gonna go for loading facilities, they’re gonna go for cold chain systems, they’re gonna go for silos, and storage facilities. And of course, any place that builds or maintains agricultural equipment, this stuff is a lot more dispersed, it’s a lot harder to defend. It’s not like just putting a bunch of air defense around the city. And you’re gonna have a lot more target hits because of it. But that’s how this is going to go. On the Ukrainian side. This doesn’t mean that you should expect an assault before the 18th. In fact, I really don’t think it’s going to happen this month. And the problem is simply weather and not like abnormal weather, just how it normally is. The problem the Ukrainians face is that every fall in every spring, the country just gets deluged and the land is very flat and doesn’t drain very well. So you get mud, not mud that’s like three or four inches deep, but mud that can be six to eight feet deep. And until it dries out, you simply cannot move people, much less tanks, unless they’re on a road. And if you have heavy equipment on the road, you’re just asking for it to get blown up. So while the Ukrainians appear to be nearly ready, they brought in a lot of weaponry, all the battle tanks that NATO has promised are there. And they’ve even trained up on a few jets that have been donated. They can’t move yet. And so it’s probably going to be the last week of May or into June when things finally dry out. That’s just kind of traditionally when the spring mud season ends. So it’s coming. It’s close, but we’re not here yet. Now in tomorrow’s session, we’re going to talk about what the goals are of the Ukrainian offensive, but I’m going to warn you right now the Ukrainians have done well because they have been unpredictable. And after that, we’ll start talking about minimum cases for victory for both sides. Alright, that’s it for me. Talk to you guys tomorrow. Bye. Bye.

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