Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Putin the Practical Wants Ukraine Grain

by Brian Czech

Pundits, think tanks, and politicians are asking, “What does Putin want with Ukraine?” If you’re familiar with Ukraine’s flag—especially the bottom half—you’re halfway to the answer.

Photo of Vladimir Putin

Putin: inscrutable yet exuding practicality. (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Global Panorama)

But let’s start with the conventional wisdom. Yes, Putin wants to pressure the West into preventing Ukraine from joining NATO, thereby keeping the alliance off Russia’s doorstep. Russia’s natural gas transmission to Europe would be a lot more profitable if they didn’t have to pipe the gas through tariff-charging Ukraine, too. Hundreds of miles of shoreline on the Sea of Azov with its rich sturgeon fishery doesn’t hurt, either (even with Crimea already grabbed).

There’s also the bluntest geographic reality of all: Ukraine is one of the largest countries in the world that could conceivably be stolen by a menacing neighbor.

No one knows for sure what’s on Putin’s mind, but it’s clear what the Western press has overlooked: those amber waves of Ukraine grain!

Ukraine’s Flag

Recently I had the opportunity of interviewing Chris Matthews for the The Steady Stater podcast (episode 60, not yet posted). When I asked him for recommendations on advancing the steady state economy, he quickly honed in on the paucity of geographic knowledge among Americans. His point is well-taken: How can we understand limits to growth without a good grasp of geography?

It’s not just about place names and borders; far from it. Merely recognizing the military implications of coastlines, mountain ranges, and rivers doesn’t cut it either. What’s crucial for an understanding of everything from poultry to politics is ecological and economic geography. And, in the 21st century, climate change must be taken into account as well.

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