After getting battered by the pandemic, supply chain chokeholds and leaps in prices, the global economy is poised to be sent on yet another unpredictable course by an armed clash on Europe’s border.
Even before the Kremlin ordered Russian troops into separatist territories of Ukraine on Monday, the tension had taken a toll. The promise of punishing sanctions in return by President Biden and the potential for Russian retaliation had already pushed down stock returns and driven up gas prices.
An outright attack by Russian troops could cause dizzying spikes in energy and food prices, fuel inflation fears and spook investors, a combination that threatens investment and growth in economies around the world.
However harsh the effects, the immediate impact will be nowhere near as devastating as the sudden economic shutdowns first caused by the coronavirus in 2020. Russia is a transcontinental behemoth with 146 million people and a huge nuclear arsenal, as well as a key supplier of the oil, gas and raw materials that keep the world’s factories running. But unlike China, which is a manufacturing powerhouse and intimately woven into intricate supply chains, Russia is a minor player in the global economy.
spikes in heating and gas bills, which are already soaring. Natural gas reserves are at less than a third of capacity, with weeks of cold weather ahead, and European leaders have already accused Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, of reducing supplies to gain a political edge.
United Nations report. Russia is the world’s largest supplier of wheat, and together with Ukraine, accounts for nearly a quarter of total global exports. For some countries, the dependence is much greater. That flow of grain makes up more than 70 percent of Egypt and Turkey’s total wheat imports.
This will put further strain on Turkey, which is already in the middle of an economic crisis and struggling with inflation that is running close to 50 percent, with skyrocketing food, fuel and electricity prices.
And as usual, the burden falls heaviest on the most vulnerable. “Poorer people spend a higher share of incomes on food and heating,” said Ian Goldin, a professor of globalization and development at Oxford University.
Ukraine, long known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” actually sends more than 40 percent of its wheat and corn exports to the Middle East or Africa, where there are worries that further food shortages and price increases could stoke social unrest.
Lebanon, for example, which is experiencing one of the most devastating economic crises in more than a century, gets more than half of its wheat from Ukraine, which is also the world’s largest exporter of seed oils like sunflower and rapeseed.
On Monday, the White House responded to Mr. Putin’s decision to recognize the independence of two Russian-backed territories in the country’s east by saying it would begin imposing limited sanctions on the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Biden would soon issue an executive order prohibiting investment, trade and financing with people in those regions.