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Ukraine’s fight for its life and why it matters to Montana

by Keegan Lundman
| September 18, 2022 12:00 AM

Since Russia renewed its siege on Ukraine in February, thousands of Ukrainians have died and millions have fled their homes. Why should we Montanans care? Because Russia’s war of destruction has grave implications for our national and economic security as well as our role in the global world order.

Ukraine is similar to Montana in size, latitude, and topography, but one of our most notable commonalities is a critical export of wheat. While this year Russia’s wheat yield is at a record high, Ukraine’s is down 38%. The heaviest costs of decreased wheat production in Ukraine may not be felt here in Montana, but the increased prices of wheat cultivation and transportation are. While prices per bushel for wheat have exceeded $10, Montana farmers are struggling through devastating droughts, and the high oil prices caused by the war in Ukraine have made planting, harvesting, and transporting wheat double in cost. Montana and Ukraine both export about 80% of their wheat crops. While this year’s wheat yield in Montana is much higher than last year’s due to increased rainfall, Montana’s production is still well below average, and farmers are struggling to bear the burden of increased production costs due to the war. Russian oil and Russian and Ukrainian wheat are crucial to global supply chains that, when interrupted, cause great detriment to us in Montana.

These consequences are not lost on Russia. Since 2014, the U.S. and many of its allies have imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its illegal annexation of Crimea, to minimal results. Now Russia has the geopolitical power to deprive much of Europe of the oil and gas needed to survive winter. Russia also holds one fifth of the world’s freshwater and more than one fifth of the world’s remaining forests, and has the power to leverage these resources against nations that depend on them.

Ukraine and Montana are also linked by nuclear issues. Montana is a high-value target for attack because of its permanent nuclear stores, though it is unlikely that Putin will resort to nuclear warfare. At the same time, a critical concern in the war in Ukraine is fighting around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The risk to Zaporizhzhia has raised corollary fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

While Russia has consistently confronted fledgling and established democracies alike, the promotion of democracy is a U.S. foreign policy priority. While we cannot protect all democratic nations, we have one of the strongest militaries in the world linked with the power of NATO. Since its founding, NATO has incorporated 18 new member states and expanded east. Since Russia attacked Ukraine, more states have considered joining NATO, such as the historically neutral Finland and Sweden. Much of the western world is allied against Russia, but these alliances do little to tamper Russia’s aggression. While Ukraine is not part of NATO, four of its bordering nations are. War on Ukraine is war on the 21st-century status quo, and war on any NATO power in uncomfortably close proximity with Ukraine becomes our war.

For the sake of security, resource preservation, democracy, geopolitical leverage, and basic human decency, we in Montana ought not forget about Ukraine in this time of war.

To learn more, join Iuliia Mendel, former Press Secretary to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, on September 20 at 7:00 pm in a Mansfield Zoom Dialogue, where she will discuss her experience on the ground during Russia’s invasion as well as prior events including attending meetings between Zelenskyy and Putin and fielding press inquiries after the infamous calls between Donald Trump and Zelenskyy. Register at www.mansfieldcenter.org

Keegan Lundman recently graduated from UM with a focus in Russian, History, German, and European Studies after studying Russian in Ukraine in 2021. She currently works at UM’s Mansfield Center.

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