Russia Won’t Attack NATO, bit It Might Starve Africa
Nothing may succeed like success, but solid, undeniable military failure will really set the defense establishment factions on each other like cats in a sack. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s been doing his best to keep said cats in the bag. First there was blaming the FSB — the outfit formerly known as the KGB — that planned the three-day invasion in the first place; then the military brass turning on each other and had to be purged; The right-wing bloggers started sniffing about army incompetence followed by that shocking Wagner mutiny and its flaccid follow through. Lord only knows what Yevgeny Prigozhen has on the Putin, but he’s still walking around St. Petersburg. Now, it seems, anyone can tell the boss what they think.
It appears that the boss doesn’t care for this development. Right wing blogger and former military chief Igor Girkin has been arrested for “extremism” which is the legal term for calling Putin a “cowardly bum.” And then he had to tell the lady that runs RT to knock off her nagging as well.
Even Belarus president Alexander Lukenshenko, normally a loyal pocket-friend, told Putin in a meeting with that “The Wagner guys have started to stress us… [they say] ‘Let’s go on a trip to Warsaw and Rzeszów.’” Rzeszów, Poland, for the record, is nearish the Ukrainian border on the other western side of the country, where you fly into if you are driving into Ukraine towards Lviv. The Pols are reporting Wagner Groups gathering to the north, at the Suwalki Gap a little corridor that snakes along the border of Lithuania and Poland and attached to the Russian enclave of Kalingrad. Lukenshenko seems comfortable enough letting Russians launch an attack on Ukraine, but is getting squeamish about barreling into a NATO country.
So how likely is a Wagner invasion of Poland in either the north or the south? Not likely. This drama is almost certainly for domestic consumption — Russia defending against the NATO menace sort of thing. The thing to understand about Russia is that Putin isn’t the centralized cult of personality like China’s President Xi — he’s more like a crime boss with the judges and police in his pocket, trying to hold the ring on his capos. Putin is likely trying to increase the chatter about external threats to keep. The capos in line. Besides, China isn’t going to look kindly on its BFF ally going into a war it can’t win with its №2 trading partner.
More pressing is the weaponization of food prices, the next logical step after his weaponization of oil largely failed last year. And this year it will be different — a warm winter helped to blunt the oil weapon last winter, but a baking, dry summer will sharpen the food weapon. Moscow has withdrawn from the Black Sea Grain inactive, choking off around a fifth of the world’s cereals. Making matters worse is that global grain yields will be dramatically down this year. US corn yields are expected to be down 6% and wheat down 17% this year. In Australia, barley and wheat yields are expected to be down 34% and 30% respectively. India, which produces about 40% of the world’s rice, is so worried that it has banned the export of all non-Basmati rice — which will reduce the global export supply by about 10%. Between wheat, corn and rice we are looking at about two fifths of the global caloric intake — for the poorer nations, that’s four fifths.
The US has largely dodged a bullet, but food price inflation was 14% in the EU, 17% in Great Britain and a staggering 65% in Egypt. No one really thinks that there is going to be another French Revolution, but Africa has had six coups in three years and Egypt tends to cycle its revolutions like it’s the World Cup, or the winter Olympics. Staggering heat, high food prices and government’s cutting spending after the covid spree is probably going to make for a hairy period of geopolitical unrest. And expensive bread.
Originally Appeared in the 4717. Subscribe for accessible insights on geopolitics, markets and the odd cocktail.