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Ukraine War Updates Part 1: The Inevitables

Thought Leader: Peter Zeihan
May 9, 2023

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 mmt 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.

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