The secret issue of the war in Ukraine: raw materials

Titanium, oil, iron, gas, manganese… The control of fossil resources and minerals buried in the territory of Ukraine is the basis of the conflict. And it prioritizes the environment and people’s interests.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which began with the annexation of Crimea and Donbass in 2014, is a sad projection of the new militaristic, expansionist and anti-Western national identity that Vladimir Putin has forged since coming to power. Galia Ackerman is brilliantly portrayed Immortal Regiment (ed. Premier Parallèle, 2019) This policy consolidates Russian society around the nostalgic messianism of Great Russia, of which Ukraine will be an integral part.

But this conflict is also a conflict for metals, oil and gas, which has been intensifying since 2014. Because the rapprochement of the Ukrainian governments with Western countries has allowed the United States and the European Union to plan the extraction of raw materials from this rich wealth. the endowed country. A spy belli For Moscow.

Bringing Ukraine closer to the West, losing access to raw materials and control: it was too much for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Unsplash / Zeynep Elif Ozdemir

In 2010, large deposits of shale gas were discovered in Ukraine. The largest is located in the east of the country, in Yuzivska, Kharkiv region. Its reserves will correspond to a third of Ukraine’s annual gas consumption.

In 2013, permits were granted to the Shell and Chevron companies of the United States. Against the backdrop of corruption: then-resources minister Mykola Zlochevsky was also the president of Burisma Holdings, one of Ukraine’s largest private gas companies. This group, known for its closeness to Joe Biden, brought his son Hunter Biden to its board in 2014.

Yuzivska’s massive extraction project has sparked protests from local residents who have mobilized against water pollution from hydraulic fracturing, a technique banned in France. But this campaign, according to the strategic communication center of Ukraine, was supported by Russia. usually completely indifferent to environmental issues » : this country would largely support the movement Shale gas is the death of Donbass ».

Europe’s largest gas reserves

Indeed, Ukraine would have the largest gas reserves in Europe after Russia if it lived under the dependence of Russia’s Gazprom. Exploitation of these reserves would not only allow it to become more independent, but also allow American companies to export their gas to Europe at the expense of Gazprom.

A similar scenario took place in the Crimea during the same period. Following the discovery of major oil and gas deposits in the Black Sea, Exxon Mobil, Shell and Chevron received exploration permits in 2012. It was also signed with Ukraine at the end of November 2013 EDF and Italian WIDTH The agreement on the exploitation of hydrocarbons in Eastern Crimea envisages the production of 3 million tons of oil per year. All these projects It was either abandoned or stopped with the annexation of Crimea »Ukrainian analyst Maksym Bugriy notes.

According to Robert Muggan of the Canadian strategic analysis firm “SecDev”, the conquests achieved in 2014 enabled Russia. Controlling half of Ukraine’s conventional oil, 72 % of natural gas, coal production and most of its reserves ». The latter are located in Donbass, which was once one of the main coal production areasUSSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and the birthplace of Stakhanov, a coal miner who became a legendary figure of the Soviet worker.

Strategic basement

According to SecDev, after the invasion that began in February 2022, Russia owned 41 coal mines, about 50 gas and oil fields, and about ten strategic mining fields.

Indeed, this is a battle for metals going on in Ukraine. The country’s underground resources hide significant deposits estimated by the Ukrainian geological services at $7,500 billion. Ukraine ranks fifth in the world in terms of reserves of iron, graphite and manganese – two important elements for the production of electric batteries.

It is also the world’s sixth largest producer of titanium, a strategic metal for aerospace production, and has large deposits of lithium, copper, cobalt and rare earths, which are used in the energy sector as well as in electronics and defense. . That is why the European Union concluded the strategic metals and batteries partnership with Ukraine in July 2021, a cooperation that began in 2014 after the pro-Western Poroshenko government came to power and gradually strengthened.

Lightweight and strong, titanium is extremely valuable to the aerospace industry. Unsplash / John Cameron

This partnership responds to the desire of the European Union and, more broadly, NATO, to ensure the supply of raw materials for its industry against the Chinese and Russian monopolies. Theoretically, these are metals for transition » ; in practice, the goal is broader. For example, it would secure titanium imports, which are crucial for Airbus and Safran. ; zirconium, three-quarters is used for the core ; scandium, a byproduct of titanium metallurgy used in fuel cells and ultralight aerospace alloys ; or even molybdenum, used in superalloys, screens and electronic chips. The American industry for the production of semiconductors is also 90 % of ultra-pure quality neon produced using gas from a steel plant in Odessa.

Prior to this partnership, Ukraine had committed to privatize its mines and metallurgical industry, and to cooperate with Europe (EuroGeoSurveys) and America.USGS) and produce in English a Investment Atlas » cataloging existing critical metal deposits. According to “Ukraine Invest”, 8761 deposits were listed in 2021.

Starting in 2016, the government began selling mining permits through electronic auctions. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of allocated permits increased from 150 to 377, and the number of electronic auctions increased from 10 to 160. In 2019, the metallurgical company Metinvest of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, is associated with the giant. Glencore (located in Switzerland) to exploit one of the country’s main iron deposits, in Shimanivske near Zaporizhia.

Battle for resources

In 2021, the Austrian “European Lithium” company acquired the lithium deposits of the country, including the Shevchenkivske deposits located in Donbass. The graphite mines in Nikolayev district in the south of the country were given to the Australian company “Volt Resources”. Russian giant after the invasion of Crimea DF titanium mines were extracted, and other deposits in the country are currently being exploited by the Ukrainian-American company Velta Resources.

These deposits are of strategic importance for NATO countries as well as for Russia. For Olivia Lazard of the Carnegie Institution, its intention is clear to gain access to the same resources that Europe needs to enforce climate law ». Russia is already the world’s second largest producer of aluminum and the largest exporter of nickel, which is used for batteries. It also dominates the palladium market, which is used especially for the production of fuel cells.

The dependence of Western buyers on this raw material is such that the London Metal Exchange has lifted the ban on the sale of Russian metals. According to Olivia Lazard, while strengthening its status as a major export power, Moscow is trying to carve out a place for itself in new energy markets. Therefore, the attack should be changed in Ukraine In the larger context of the maneuvers of the Wagner group, a mercenary company unofficially linked to the Kremlin, whose owner also controls extractive companies such as Lobaye Invest, is currently present in mineral-rich African countries such as Mozambique, Madagascar, and the Central African Republic. and Mali ». The background of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is this conflict over the supply of critical materials, the first victim of which is the Ukrainian population.

Geopolitical clashes and mining projects put the Ukrainian population on the back burner. Unsplash / Marjan Blanc

On November 16, in Brussels, the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denis Shmykhal and the Minister of Natural Resources Ruslan Strilets participated in the Raw Materials Week held in Brussels with the participation of the European Commissioner and the initiator of the European Commission, Marosh Sefcovich. Metals partnership with Ukraine.

On this occasion, the latter mentioned the terms of the partnership: This will help the integration of UkraineEUand it represents an important element in diversifying our raw material supply and geostrategic status for the European Union. » Despite the bombings, minister Ruslan Strilets assured that the reform of the Mining Code is almost complete and the cabinet that issues the permits is operational. in the service of future investors after the war, even before the victory ». Jurgen Rigterink, the vice-president of the European Development Bank, noted that the latter is the main investor who invested 19 billion euros in the country. Ukraine can become a resource superpower ».

What independence from European interests ?

Ukraine longs for independence, and therefore the majority of Ukrainians support its rapprochement with Ukraine.EU. But when it is necessary to return tens of billions of euros of loans contracted with the country’s leaders, what kind of space will be left for the country’s leaders. SHAMEThe World Bank, the United States and the European countries that covet its natural resources ?

We will not only restore Ukraine, we will make it better and greener », Marosh Sefcovich assured the Ukrainian ministers on November 16. But can we rebuild Ukraine? more green » by turning the country into a mining paradise for European industry ? However, we know that mining is the world’s most polluting industrial sector and the world’s leading producer of waste.

What do the people of Ukraine think? ? Since 2004, residents of the Mariupol region in Donbass have opposed the exploitation of Azov’s rare earth and zirconium deposits due to the risks of radioactive contamination and have twice suspended the granting of permits. The last auction of the deposit, held in January 2021, caused huge protests in the Mankhush and Nikolske districts. After the war ends, won’t Ukrainians be surprised to see their region sold off to mining and gas companies as they try to survive Russian attacks and bombings? ?

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