Ukraine Marks 31 Years of Independence, 6 Months of Repelling Russian Invasion
Girl takes an Instagram video on a parade of destroyed Russian military equipment exhibited on Khreschatyk Avenue in Kyiv as part celebration of Ukrainian Independence Day, Ukraine, Aug. 23, 2022. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Ukraine Marks 31 Years of Independence, 6 Months of Repelling Russian Invasion

After half a year of conflict, the world is feeling the effects – seen in higher prices for food and gas in some countries, and in food shortages in others, including acutely in the MENA region.

Half a year ago, on February 24, Russian troops that were massed on Ukraine’s border launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor to the southwest. The goals of the “special military operation,” according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, were to protect the Russian-speaking separatist republics of Lugansk and Donetsk, which he had just recognized as independent. A second goal, he said, was to de-Nazify the country that, ironically, is led by a Jewish president. Finally, Putin demanded that Ukraine never become a member of the NATO alliance.

Six months into the conflict, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is running the show from his bunker office somewhere underneath Kyiv and has called on his people to remain steadfast and resist, while he has said he will not agree to a settlement. Ironically, August 24 also is Ukrainian Independence Day, the date in 1991 when Ukraine separated from the Soviet Union.

But six months into the conflict, thousands to tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers have been killed, some brutally, as well as thousands of Russian soldiers. While Russia controls about 20% of Ukrainian territory, homes, and apartments, schools and government buildings, bridges and other infrastructure have been destroyed by Russian airstrikes. At the same time, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine has fallen under Russian military control, and fears of a nuclear disaster have been heightened due to shelling from both sides.

Six months into the conflict, the world is feeling the effects – seen in higher prices for food and gas in some countries, and in food shortages in others, including acutely in the MENA region.

Russia and Ukraine account for one-third of the world’s grain supplies, which provided – pre-war – some 45 million tons of grain to the world market, much of it to MENA countries. But until last month, no grain was able to leave Ukrainian ports. Egypt, which received 80% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, imported 3.6 million tons of wheat from Ukraine in 2021, and Turkey nearly 1.2 million tons. Yemen, for example, which normally imports more than a million tons of wheat a year from Ukraine, has seen the price of flour rise by 42% and bread by 25%. The price of bread in Syria has doubled. Libya, Sudan, and Lebanon – the latter of which imports over 60% of its wheat supply from Ukraine – also have been seriously affected by the shortage of grain imports.

On July 22, Russia and Ukraine signed the Black Sea Grain Initiative in Istanbul, a deal with Turkey and the United Nations to allow food and fertilizer exports from the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdennyi. The deal was inked to allow safe passage for ships carrying grain to world markets amid a sharp rise in food prices, concerns about food shortages, and fears of a global hunger crisis due to the Russo-Ukrainian War. The deal came after Turkey exercised its authority under the Montreux Convention, limiting Russian ships’ access to the Black Sea, located south of Ukraine.

Since the deal was struck, more than 630,000 tons of grain and other foodstuffs have been shipped from Ukraine’s ports. The ships first stop in Turkey, where inspectors check that outbound cargo ships carry only grain, fertilizer, or food and not any other commodities, and that inbound ships are not carrying weapons.

The war’s effects on the global oil market have resonated in the region, as well.

In June, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov participated in the regular meeting of the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries at the GCC headquarters in Riyadh, part of a Gulf tour that included Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The aim of the talks was to discuss several issues, most notably the stabilization of the neutral Gulf position on the war and the continuation of current OPEC+ production levels. The Gulf foreign ministers also held a videoconference meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Saudi Arabia offered to mediate the crisis.

Also in June, the countries of the European Union agreed to ban the seaborne import of Russian oil – about two-thirds of the total − by the end of 2022. This and other sanctions on Russian oil have caused the price per barrel, as well as prices for consumers around the world, to shoot sky-high.

The International Monetary Fund last week announced that Middle Eastern and Gulf states are expected to earn an additional $1.3 trillion in oil revenues through 2026 due to the Russia-Ukraine war. These countries include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Kuwait.

The leaders of at least two MENA countries have attempted to mediate peace between Russia and Ukraine since the start of the conflict.

In March, less than two weeks after Russia’s invasion, then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Moscow and become the first world leader to meet with Putin in the wake of the attack. Bennett held a three-hour meeting with Putin at the Kremlin in an attempt to broker a cease-fire. Zelenskyy also had asked Bennett to try to mediate a cease-fire. Ukraine has a large Jewish population.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also attempted to mediate an end to the hostilities. In March, Turkey hosted Ukrainian and Russian mediators and the two countries’ foreign ministers for talks on ending the conflict. The talks stalled. Turkey has been moving closer to Russia for years, including purchasing the S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile defense system from Moscow.

There have been no mediation efforts, at least publicly, for many weeks as the conflict drags on with no end in sight. Amid fears on Wednesday that Putin would launch a major attack to mock Ukraine on its Independence Day, Zelenskyy, in an address to the nation filmed in front of burned-out Russian tanks in the capital, praised Ukrainians for their six months of resistance and expressed hope for victory and an end to the war.

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