Growing Food Concerns Worldwide

It was only a matter of time before growing anxiety over food supplies and prices across the globe induced action by nation-states and citizens alike. As 2022 motors along, concerns about the health of the global economy, the lingering hangover of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its recent return to China, and the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine have come together to create a perfect storm. Food prices are going through the roof in a number of nations, and it was only a matter of time before citizens took to the streets and protested.

Over the weekend Iran saw a wave of protests break out across the country over cuts in state subsidies on food. To be fair, Iranians already have a laundry list of grievances with their government and economic conditions always serve as a barometer of the population’s feelings. It comes as no surprise to see Iranian citizens come out in large numbers to protest the subsidy cuts, as well as other issues. The swift and brutal response by the Iranian government, however, has raised some eyebrows around the world. Tehran’s readiness to clampdown on and make an example of anti-government protesters is an indication the government expects prices to rise even more in the coming weeks. With the cut of subsidies last week, prices on a number of flour-based food staples rose in excess of 300%

There are also protests and street violence over rising food prices and inflation going on in Sri Lanka and Tajikistan. Those situations will be discussed in more detail later in the week.

Then there is the increasing worry over food supplies. India is moving to take pre-emptive action by restricting exports of wheat to create a safety cushion of sorts for its own population. The Indian government seeks to control rising prices and diminishing output due to global economic conditions and the extreme heat wave that has affected Indian wheat production. Predictably, India’s move has sent global prices skyrocketing and prompted the US and European Union to begin searching for solutions to improve food supply chains. Given the current conditions, Washington and Brussels need to hurry. At the present time, the situation worldwide appears fated to become significantly worse unless measures are taken within weeks.

Transnistria Simmers

Over the past week, the Moldovan region of Transnistria has become a focal point of attention. As the war in eastern Ukraine continues on, concern is growing that the breakaway Russian-backed region of Moldova could be the next flashpoint. Transnistria is a prototypical “oppressed Russian-speaking populations” region. A de-facto independent, but unrecognized breakaway state on Moldova’s eastern border, it has co-existed with the remainder of Moldova since the end of the Cold War. Russia has over 1,000 troops stationed there ostensibly as peacekeepers.

A number of attacks in Transnistria over the past week has put the region on edge. On Monday, it was the state’s security headquarters in Tiraspol, the region’s main city. The next day, a military barracks in Parcani and a radio transmitter in Maiac were hit. On Wednesday, the interior ministry reported that a number of drones were launched from Ukrainian territory and flew over the town of Cobasna, home to a large ammunition depot. Also, according to the ministry, ‘shots were fired’ from the Ukrainian side of the border in the direction of Cobasna. Following the attacks, Transnistria’s government announced a number of new measures intended to raise security across the region. New checkpoints at strategic points on roadways and in towns, increased power for militia and security forces, and Transnistria’s Defense Ministry has ordered the mobilization of all men between the ages of 18 to 55 to “replenish the peacekeeping contingent.”

The attacks have sparked concern in Moldova and around Europe that Russia is setting the stage for military action there, based on the pretense of defending the Moscow-backed breakaway republic of Transnistria. Moldovan citizens and politicians alike are increasingly worried about the direction events might take their small, pro-western nation in. Many people there are also quite aware that the future of Moldova is inextricably tied to the war in Ukraine. Right now, the war there appears to be perilously close to spilling over into Moldova. After two months of heavy fighting, and high casualties, Russia has little to show for its Ukrainian adventure. Unrest in, or a foreign attempt to destabilize Transnistria offers a variety of enticing opportunities for Russia. The Moldovan government and its citizens understand this as well, and are quite worried. Russia is clearly prepared to use the Transnistria for more attacks into Ukraine, or possibly for aggression against Moldova.

The New Realities Of A MultiPolar World

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is widely recognized as being an event that heralds the formal transition to a multipolar era. Even though ‘Great Powers Competition’ has become the preferred term of pundits and social media geopolitical ‘experts,’ I prefer Multipolar World since it more accurately describes the global landscape at present. For better or worse, power in the world is distributed amongst a small collection of nation-states and alliances spanning multiple continents. As we are witnessing in Ukraine with regards to Russia, the interdependence of the multipolar world becomes imperiled when a powerful nation-state or alliance places its own interests above those of the herd, so to speak.

For the United States and many of her allies in Europe and the Pacific, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proven the opening phase of this Multipolar World era will be chaotic and without the reins of international oversight and rules-based order in existence since the end of World War II. In other words, despite the wishes of policymakers in Washington, London, Berlin and Tokyo, the present international system could find itself either in need of major remodeling or complete replacement. Russia’s challenge will help to determine not only the future of Ukraine as a nation-state, but also the future of the current international order.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has also reopened the debate on America’s place and role in the world. US actions and positions have consequences, there is no getting around that. Right now, the extent of those actions since the end of the Cold War are coming into focus as scholars and others in the field consider if Russia’s invasion was no more than an inevitable reaction to the US expanding its hegemony in Eastern Europe and beyond after the Cold War concluded. The US continues to play the principal role on the global stage, despite the desires of many Americans to step back from Europe and the Middle East and concentrate on Asia and the Pacific, where the most significant threat to US interests is at.

For the supporters of that line of thinking, Ukraine serves as a very rude wakeup call, proving that despite US desires and wishes, the world may not be ready to see the US shirk its responsibility or embark upon an entirely new endeavor.

Ukraine Update 8 April, 2022

  • The death toll from Friday morning’s attack on a train station in eastern Ukraine has risen to over fifty, with five of the victims confirmed to be children. Right before 10:30 AM (Local Time) Russian SS-21 ballistic missiles struck the area surrounding the main railway station in Kramatorsk. Nearby witnesses reported multiple explosions within a short amount of time, leading to some reports that the missiles were equipped with cluster-munition warheads. This was later found not to be the case. The Ukrainian government immediately condemned the attack. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy even went as far as to accuse Russia of deliberately targeting civilians with this attack.
  • The arrival of US Army Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries in Slovakia has enabled the Bratislava government to donate its own SA-10 Grumble SAM systems to Ukraine. Slovakia’s prime minister, Eduard Heger is in Ukraine today discussing future aid shipments with the Ukrainian government and EU officials.
  • The latest wave of European Union sanctions against Russia were announced earlier today. Bans on imports of coal, wood, chemicals and other goods will reduce the total imports from Russia by 10%. Russian ships and trucks will also be prevented from accessing EU ports and nations. This package of sanctions is decidedly larger than what was expected. The increase probably has to do with alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops in a number of Ukrainian towns since the start of the war.
  • With the Russian withdrawal from north of Kiev now complete, more or less, the new focus of the war will be in the Donbas region. If Russia can seize control of the Luhansk and Donetsk breakaway republics in their entirety, it may open the door to a renewed push towards Kiev at some point in the future. Certainly not in the short term, however.

The Ever-Present Risks of Escalation

The possibility of the Russia-Ukraine War escalating into a larger conflict involving NATO member-states has been on the minds of politicians, diplomats, and general officers around the world since hostilities started in late February. For some nations, imposing economic sanctions on Russia and providing overt military support to Ukraine has forced them to walk a line that at times strays perilously close to promoting escalation. The prospect of provoking a wider conflict has forced the West to throttle back when it comes to undertaking some of the more perilous courses of action in response to Russia’s invasion.

This was clear in the first few days of fighting when the European Union moved to establish the groundwork for a plan allowing willing Eastern European nations to transfer their Soviet-era aircraft to Ukraine. Initially, there was a significant amount of enthusiasm for the proposal. As the days went on and the consequences this action could release was realized in capital cities across Eastern Europe, many governments quietly backed away from their pledges to send surplus MiGs and Sukhoi combat aircraft to Ukraine. Their concerns are justified. Sending warplanes is an overt act of support, quite different from the shipment of small arms, handheld SAMs and anti-tank guided missiles.  Poland is the only nation has stayed the course with Warsaw still actively searching for a way to ship its MiG-29s to Ukraine without being labeled as a co-combatant by Russia. The latest move, dependent upon US involvement was immediately turned down by Washington.

The prospect of a no-fly zone has also been surreptitiously sent to the grave.  A number of retired general officers and politicians in NATO nations have been vociferously calling for the introduction of a no-fly zone over Ukraine to prevent Russian airstrikes and missile attacks. The Ukrainian government has been the biggest proponent of a no-fly zone and its position is contrary to the Ukrainian Air Force’s claims of having shot down over fifty Russian combat aircraft and eighty helicopters. Air forces that inflict these types of losses do not need outside help. Therefore, it is increasingly certain that Ukraine has lost air superiority over the bulk of its territory. A no-fly zone involving air units from the United States and other NATO nations runs the risks of clashes with Russian aircraft. The consequences of this are apparent. NATO and Russia would find themselves engaging each other in combat and escalation would be imminent.