Russia's invasion of Ukraine is sending global energy and agricultural markets into a spin. Oil prices are up at USD 120 a barrel. Physical wheat prices are over USD 11 a bushel for the first time since 2008 at the peak of the China and property bubble. Russia and Ukraine supply nearly a third of global wheat exports. Russia has signed a deal to sell more wheat to China, perhaps anticipating sanctions. It will soon be able to harvest and export wheat from Ukraine to its eastern partner.
In the West, we are all nervous about the prospects of escalation following Putin's heavy hints about nuclear war. We've seen The War Game, or Threads, or The Day After, or even the Terminator movies or When the Wind Blows. We've imagined the post-nuclear future and we don't want to go there. Putin knows that which is why he threatens the West with it. But being as paranoid as any previous Russian Tsar (it must be in the Psyche) he still thinks that NATO might counter-attack. Accordingly the Byelorussians have been ordered to close the border with Poland and to fortify it, according to their own President Lukashenko.
The armchair generals insisting that NATO enforce a no-fly zone are mistaken. Sadly for Ukraine's president and people, NATO is not going to get directly involved militarily in Ukraine. The Ukrainians may feel like they have bene promised support that won't deliver.
Yet President Putin needs concrete evidence that the West won't interfere in his war in Ukraine. The West may not share his worldview but it needs to understand it as do the armchair generals and those my wife refers to as the Shrieking Classers who type in upper case in the comments sections of the news websites.
It would be preferable in any case to create a demilitarised zone either side of the Dnieper river to keep the warring sides apart.
Only one organisation can do this and bring about a ceasefire with any chance of a lasting peace, however uneasy: the UN. This is a depressing thought, given the UN's patchy record of getting much done. But it doesn't change the fact that only the UN can be realistically perceived as neutral by both sides.
It's all very well the UN writing huffy letters and delegates walking out of video-link presentations. The UN should be assembling a peacekeeping force, made up of well-supplied battalions from non-aligned countries, and insisting on installing it.
If Putin rejects a peacekeeping mission, that blows up his claim to want to demilitarise Ukraine and we know he is on the first of a series of wars of conquest. He is still saying his goal is to demilitarise Ukraine so let's use his own language against him rather than listening to the armchair generals who want to provoke WW3.
Sadly, Ukraine is probably going to end up partitioned anyway, on something like the 1922 borders if Russia is not going to occupy it completely. In the South, Russia wants to control the Black Sea coast and link up with secessionist Transnistria in Moldova. In the East, Russia wants Donbas, home to dozens of its defence contractors linked to Crimea and the naval base at Sevastopol.
Sanctions won't change those Russian strategic goals, because Russia can sell energy and grain to China (deals done at the Winter Olympics) and use Chinese tech instead of western tech. It can trade its metals, ores and raw materials with its larger neighbour to the East. Russia can survive the loss of western consumer goods and electronics because China can supply alternatives.
Let's assume that the common goal is security, and preferably peace in Ukraine. It is time for the UN to up its game and make suggestions to deliver those rather than virtue signalling from the comfort of New York City.