• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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‘Ukraine is interested in establishing joint venture in food processing industries in Nigeria’

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Petro Burkovskyi is a senior fellow at the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Ukraine. As an analyst, Burkovskyi provides situational and strategic analysis of public opinion trends in Ukraine, analysing Ukrainian foreign policy, the Ukrainian-Russian situation, and Ukrainian-American relations.

In this interview with BusinessDay, Burkovskyi gives insight into the state of the Russian attack on Ukraine and the impact the Ukrainian-Russian war is having on trade relations with Nigeria and other African countries.

What plans is Ukraine making to improve trade with Nigeria despite the ongoing war?

The first step was taken when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy approved the new Strategy for Foreign Policy in August 2021, aiming to intensify relations with African countries. The strategy outlines the importance of deepening economic cooperation with the Economic Community of West African States, an organisation where Nigeria plays an important and leading role. Despite the war, Ukraine remains committed to its obligations and is interested in achieving the agreement on free trade with all ECOWAS member states, particularly with Nigeria.

The idea of free trade between Ukraine and Nigeria is to open more business opportunities for both countries and balance bilateral trade. Ukraine is not only interested in selling grain and steelworks, which made up the bulk of exports before the war, but also in establishing joint ventures in food processing industries and the IT sector in Nigeria.

There are a couple of directions that are beneficial to both Ukraine and Nigeria.

First one. Ukrainian agricultural and food companies may explore opportunities to establish storage facilities and production lines with Nigerian companies to cover the growing demand for safe and quality food.

Second one. Ukrainian e-services, including online banking, successfully survive the regular “ideal storms” of Russian cyber-attacks and energy disruptions. I think these technologies can have great demand in Nigeria.

The third, but far from the last, is the provision of a stable electricity supply, which is the backbone of any significant economic development. Ukraine has a unique experience in repairing and restoring electricity grids and local natural gas networks. Nigerian and Ukrainian energy companies may start pilot projects in this area and then share their solutions with other West African nations.

Read also: Ukraine mulls establishing grain hub in Nigeria

It’s been almost a year since Russia invaded your country. How much has your country lost in terms of human lives and money?

There is no exact data, thus no consensus about losses among Ukrainian and international observers. The reason is that Russia does not allow the UN or the Red Cross to enter the occupied territories and conduct independent observations. Thus, the UN can calculate losses only in government-controlled areas. According to the latest UN figures, since the beginning of the Russian invasion in 2014 and until February 24, 2022, Ukraine has lost 14,000 lives. In the nine months since February 24, Ukraine has lost approximately 6,500 civilian lives and ten thousand have been injured, but this is clearly only the tip of the iceberg. According to our government’s estimates, only in the city of Mariupol, besieged by Russia in March–May 2022, did 20,000 civilians lose their lives. Unfortunately, this is not the last data point as long as the war is going on.

As for the military casualties of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government admitted that around 13,000 servicemen and servicewomen perished in battles with the Russian army. More combatants are wounded, but this figure is not published. Meanwhile, the Russian casualties, according to independent estimates, for instance from the Norwegian defence ministry, have already exceeded 180,000 dead and wounded, which constitutes around 75 percent of the invasion army that attacked Ukraine in 2022.

In a joint assessment made by Ukraine, the European Commission, and the World Bank before September 2022, the cost of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine amounted to $349 billion (€349 billion), which reflects the scale of damages caused by the Russian invasion. This figure is higher now, especially after numerous missile attacks against energy infrastructure from October 2022 to January 2023.

For instance, according to the Kyiv School of Economics estimates, the damage only to infrastructure amounted to $138 billion as of January 2023. Total economic losses are estimated to be between $543 and $600 billion (GDP decline, labour force loss, investment loss, increased defence spending).

In your own assessment, can there be a peaceful resolution to this war?

Yes, it is possible. There are several scenarios.

First scenario: Russia is entirely isolated by international sanctions. Under the first scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin can face the threat of a domestic revolution due to the dire economic situation caused by the impact of the sanctions and call off his army from Ukraine to protect himself from his own people. Nigeria can play a part in this by not buying Russian goods and not allowing Russia to earn on its natural resources.

Second scenario: The war stops because Russia has run out of power to continue after a massive defeat on the battlefield.

However, there is a third and worst scenario if Russia continues to get supplies from outside and turns the war into a protracted conflict. It means that instability with food and energy prices will persist as long as the war continues.

Thus, it is in the interest of all civilised UN member states to show solidarity in condemning Russia, which broke international law and brought huge instability into the global system. Africa and Nigeria can have an important influence on which scenario takes place. It is up to the Nigerian government to look at the facts and make an independent judgement about what is best for the country’s national interest.

The facts are that Ukrainian Armed Forces have no plans to invade Russian territory or conduct retaliation attacks against nuclear power. To make peace, Russia must restore the borders of Ukraine, which it respected from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 until the invasion of Crimea in 2014. Moreover, until 2014, Russia enjoyed the highest level of welfare and the most stable relations with Europe and America. Putin destroyed everything, including peaceful ties with Ukraine.

This situation might be reversed if Putin agrees to withdraw all troops from Ukrainian soil. That is the primary demand of the Ukrainian peace plan presented by President Zelenskyy to the G20 during the summit in Indonesia. So, we shall see whether the Russian president can listen to India, who chairs the G20 in 2023, and Indian Prime Minister Modi, who told Putin directly that the XXI century is not a time for wars.

Ukraine exported iron and steel worth $64 million to Nigeria in 2021, according to data from Trading Economics. From your own assessment, is this true, and if it is, has this trade relationship been badly affected by the war?

Let’s take a look at the numbers. According to official data of the State Customs Service of Ukraine, in 2021, revenue from ferrous metal exports from Ukraine was $13.96 billion. After 11 months of 2022, shipments of steel raw materials abroad fell by 67.3 percent year over year, rolled products by 68.1 percent y/y, and semi-finished products by 70.6 percent y/y. In monetary terms, exports during this period fell by 65.4 percent year over year, to $4.36 billion. The war also revealed that Ukraine was an exporter of 70 percent of the world’s neon gas, a byproduct of the steel industry and an essential input in the production of computer chips.

So you can see in numbers the direct results of the invasion since Russia destroyed two big steel enterprises in Mariupol, Azovstal, and Illich Steel Plant blocked the seaports and refused to include steel and iron in the Black Sea Agreement on the Humanitarian Sea Corridor. It is impacting the world market in general and giving a chain reaction to other industries, obviously in a negative way and not for the good of the world or African economies already hit by COVID and the war.

Is there any time this war is likely to end with the support the international community is giving your country?

In my opinion, three major factors influenced the course of the war.

First, the resilience and adaptability of Ukrainian society and the army. The facts on the ground, namely Russia’s massive losses and defeats, show that the Ukrainian state, military, and people work like a highly integrated, agile network in which every agent knows what to do. After Ukraine showed its ability to withstand aggression, it transformed global politics. The international support, which began with small arms and grenade launchers, developed into a supply of modern air defence systems like Patriot and IRIS-T, modern battle tanks like Abrams and Leopard 2, and comprehensive sharing of intelligence information.

It is remarkable that all modern military hardware is operated exclusively by Ukrainians, who also showed new and innovative ways to repel invasion on the strategic and tactical levels. Thus, in February 2023, Ukraine will be in a much stronger position vis-à-vis Russia, which means Russia’s troubles will only increase.

Finally, Ukraine’s international sanctions and economic support are transforming the attitudes of former traditional Russian allies like China and India. They begin to re-evaluate the cost and benefits of continuing cooperation with Russia, which is only 3 percent of the global GDP and risks losing collaboration with the rest of the world.

So, on the one side, you have Russia, which ruined the economic ties with all the most significant trading partners in Europe. The aggressor failed with its undisguised energy, food, and nuclear blackmail against global markets. Russia is losing the war to a country with a much smaller army and population. The government is becoming a pariah state because of lies and has recorded numerous war crimes and terrorist attacks against civilians. Above all, Russia continues to claim it still has the upper hand in everything and rejects the peace plan based on the UN Charter and international law.

So, does it still seem reasonable for any statesman or African government to continue cooperation or engage in joint projects with such a failed Russia? The choice is not between Ukraine and Russia but between civilised international relations and the war of all against all, where only threats and nuclear power matter. And African nations will have an important role in choosing the direction of global development in the next decade.