Lately, as some of you may know, I’ve been closely following the events happening in Ukraine. There are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, it is a conflict that has significant geopolitical ramifications that can potentially affect all of humanity – including us of course here on the Rock. Secondly, it involves military tactics which, as a retired infantry officer, I find personally interesting. Finally, I believe there is a need to cast a light on conflict from time to time in order to avoid atrocities against civilians.
The conflict itself has been portrayed by both sides as a sort of “clash of belief systems”. On the Ukraine side the separatists in East Ukraine are simply puppets of the Russian government, and in many cases Russian forces pretending to be locals. On the Russian side the Ukraine forces are “neo-nazis”, who took power from an elected government, and who are intent on persecuting the Russian populations of East Ukraine. That pretty much sums it up. However, as the saying goes: Truth is the first casualty of war.
In fact, the war in Ukraine has its origins in, believe it or not, the honey bee. The little insect that carries a massively important role – feeding us. The bee pollinates crops, and without bees we starve. That sums it up. Bees are so important in fact that Russia had to export bees to the US, because the US bee population was in radical decline. Russia blamed the decline of the bees on genetically modified crops (GMO). Specifically, Russia accused Monsanto of killing off the bees by use of a neuro-toxin, derived from nicotine, in its crops. The issue boiled over when, last year, US President Obama passed a bill that has been nicknamed the “Monsanto Protection Act”. Essentially, a bill protecting Monsanto from civil suits in the US over it’s use of GMOs. Putin was so infuriated with Obama he made John Kerry wait for three hours for a scheduled diplomatic meeting. Putin also indicated that the issue could lead to world war.
Ukraine fits into this picture as the “bread basket” of Europe. It’s massive fields and rich soil have made it a market for Monsanto, Cargill, and Dow. Until now, companies like Cargill produced seed in Ukraine, but not GMO seed. That is banned by Ukrainian law. The prominence of GMOs therefore stopped at the Polish border – some distance from Russia. The European Union itself had banned GMOs, but that has since changed – and that is key.
With the overthrow of the previous President, based primarily on not agreeing to sign an EU association agreement, the new authorities in Kiev have been pushing toward signing the agreement. That agreement will require Ukraine to allow practices like GMOs. That places GMOs right on Russia’s border, and directly affects the purity of its crops and, more importantly, the famous Russian honey bee. Yet it seems like such a small thing to bring the world to the brink of war over. However, look at the ramifications of it.
If the Russians are correct, and certainly all scientific research supports the view that bees are dangerously declining in population, then crops will fail due to lack of pollination. If crops fail then people starve. The big question would be: Have companies like Monsanto developed GMOs that don’t require pollination? If that were true, it would leave the ability to feed the population in the hands of very few. In this case, US multinationals. Naturally, one would assume, the Russians and Chinese in particular, and perhaps many others, would consider this a threat to their national interests.
It is noteworthy that, until recently, the Chinese had negotiated an agreement with the Ukraine government to lease 10% of the country’s farmland for a period of fifty years. Part of that deal included building a massive bridge from mainland Russia to Crimea. The area of Ukraine that was to see this Chinese lease? The Ukraine province of Donetsk. The Chinese also ban GMOs from their country and food chain. The deal fell through, and just a month ago the Chinese announced they were cancelling their commitment to build that new massive land link from Russia to Crimea. On the flip side, Monsanto, Cargill, etc. are going full force in Ukraine. Monsanto has promised a new $150 million facility to produce non-GMO corn there. Where are Cargill, Monsanto’s etc. plants and prospective plants located? You guessed it – the Ukrainian province of Donetsk.
Now many observers have looked at the Ukraine situation and asked themselves why is Putin so invested in Ukraine? Why has he sent Russian special forces into Luhansk and Donetsk to organize and train locals, and to actually fight the Ukraine army? Why do these rebel forces keep receiving supplies of equipment and volunteers from Russia? Why does Russia allow its border to be used? The reason it seems is quite clear. The Donetsk province, with Slavyansk as its strong point, is strategic for a reason. Not because Russia wants to rebuild its empire. Not because it wants to protect the Russian language or Russians living there. It is strategic, because without the province of Donetsk the Ukraine government, Monsanto, etc. cannot implement a GMO strategy in the country. That is the chess game unfolding between Russia and the West.
Putin has apparently stepped back from an outright invasion of east Ukraine to an alternative strategy. That is, “make all the moves you want with the EU, the US and GMOs Ukraine, but I will hold the one piece of ground that you need to implement that strategy. Without Donetsk, all your agreements and efforts are for nothing.” Putin has adopted a strategy of irregular forces, for now, that suits his purpose. He will make sure they get whatever they need to defeat the Ukraine forces in Donetsk, and to a lesser extent in Luhansk. The casualties among civilians will be high under such a strategy, and that is unfolding now in Donetsk in general, and in Slavyansk particularly. It is in effect an asymmetrical war strategy designed to hold the province of Donetsk.
Meanwhile, the Ukraine government is faced with deciding whether or not an asymmetrical war with Russia in Donetsk and Luhansk is worth it. On the one hand it may lose that war, and both provinces, and also its GMO backer’s interests. On the other hand, if it manages to defeat the “rebels” and pacify Donetsk and Luhansk it almost certainly means a Russian invasion. That is the chess match under way. In a strange twist of coincidence, Ukraine’s newly elected President Petro Poroshenko owns a massive chocolate corporation named “Roshen”, that is apparently in a relationship with Monsanto to develop a “frost resistant” cocoa bean crop to grow in Ukraine.
Whatever your perspective on this conflict is, the role of the lowly honey bee is one worth considering. Is Ukraine really about all the silly twists and turns, or is it a very dangerous game of business?
Brad Cabana is a Newfoundland and Labrador political scientist, a small business owner and a retired Captain in the Canadian Armed Forces. You can follow Brad on twitter @BradCabana and read more at his blog: Rock Solid Politics.