A war “that we thought was only to find in history books” was the comment of one German minister on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.1 Of all the responses from Western politicians to the crisis, this seemed particularly striking. It indicated a cast-iron belief, perhaps bordering on complacency, that land warfare in Europe was a thing of the past, something that happens elsewhere. President Vladimir Putin has shattered this notion.
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Along with the horrendous images and stories of human suffering that are populating our newsfeeds, another consequence of the invasion has been disruption to the global supply of key commodities from Russia. The skyrocketing price of oil and gas will not have escaped the attention of many, but the potential impact on food security is cause for greater concern. As readers of World Fertilizer will be aware, many countries source considerable quantities of fertilizer and raw materials vital to fertilizer production from Russia, as well as its ally Belarus.
A statement by Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of Norway’s Yara International – whose office in the Ukrainian capital Kiev was hit by a missile on 26 February (thankfully no-one was physically harmed) – encapsulated a key strategic dilemma: ‘Russia and Ukraine are world powers in a global and fragile food system…the biggest sources of raw material to Europe’s food production are being subject to limitations, and there are no short-term solutions…cut[ting] off Russia from international food chains…may have considerable social consequences.’ 2
For all of the West’s sanctions, this reality of dependency cannot be wished away overnight; greater shortages and higher potash, urea and ammonium nitrate prices – compounding the effects of the energy crisis – seem inevitable for farmers for as long as war continues, sanctions are escalated and Russia and Belarus are treated as pariah states by the international community. Governments must focus on doing what they can, diplomatically and economically, to weaken the Russian state and bring an end to the war as quickly as possible. But policymakers, strategists and industry would also do well to consider how the dominance Russia and Belarus have established over these crucial supply chains can be permanently overturned, as challenging as the consequences may be.
Despite the grim situation in Ukraine, some optimism can be drawn from the waning severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in many parts of the world. International travel and in-person events are feasible once again. World Fertilizer will be attending the CRU Nitrogen + Syngas Conference & Exhibition in Berlin this month, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting fellow delegates and learning about the latest developments in the nitrogen and syngas industries.
- BBC News, ‘Ukraine conflict world reaction: Sanctions, refugees and fears of war’,https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-60507016 (24 February 2022).
- HOLSETHER, S.T., ‘War and food crisis in Europe’, https://www.yara.com/news-and-media/news/archive/news-2022/war-and-food-crisis-in-europe (01 March 2022).