KT explains: Why is Ukraine important to Russia?

The war in the east has since claimed more than 14,000 lives


Anjana Sankar

Published: Fri 25 Feb 2022, 3:11 PM

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv is getting pummelled by bombs and missiles as Russia has intensified it attack on the East European country on Friday. Casualties are mounting and thousands of residents have fled their homes ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military operation into Ukraine on Thursday, ignoring pleas from world nations and the UN not to start a war.

This is not the first time Russia has attacked Ukraine. In 2014, Russian invaded Ukraine after its Pro-Russian president was deposed. The war in the east has since claimed more than 14,000 lives.

But why does Russia want to exert control over Ukraine, its erstwhile soviet territory?

Why is Ukraine important for Putin?

Ukraine is the second biggest European nation after Russia with a population of 44 million people. Around 17% of the Ukrainian population is Russian.

Ukraine has always been the link between the East and the West. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, when countries close to Europe like Romania, Lithuania joined NATO, Ukrainians were divided in their aspirations. In the Eastern part of Ukraine, most people speak Russian and remain pro-Russian while the west of the country leans towards EU. With the ouster of Pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, relations frayed between Russia and Ukraine. The conflict in the East reached a boiling point recently with Ukraine asserting its Nato aspirations, which Russia wants to stop at any cost.

Major energy transit point

Ukraine is important to Putin as it is one of the countries with the largest natural gas reserves in the world. Ukraine held 400 million barrels of proved oil reserves as of the beginning of 2021. Ukraine has Europe's second and the world’s fourth largest natural gas pipeline system. With the world’s largest natural gas transit infrastructure and its proximity to Russia, Ukraine has been an important transit country for Russia’s natural gas supplies to countries throughout Europe. European markets receive 2.9 Trillion Cubin Feet (Tcf) to 3.3 Tcf of Russia’s natural gas per year through Ukraine. Numerous countries receive Russia’s natural gas partly or exclusively through Ukraine, including Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Turkey, Poland to mention a few.

Ukraine's hydrocarbon resources are located in the Dnieper-Donetsk region in the east, which is the heart of the latest conflict with Russia.

The Dnieper-Donetsk region accounts for 90% of natural gas production.

Rich natural resources of Ukraine

Though smaller than the size of Spain, Ukraine is one of the richest in Europe in terms of its natural resources. The country is rich in mineral resources, mainly iron and magnesium, as well as in energy resources like coal and gas. Ukraine is the world's seventh largest producer of iron. It has the 10th largest titanium ore reserves in the world. Ukraine also has the second largest reserves of manganese ores (2.3 billion tons, and iron ore reserves (30 billion tons) in the world. It is also the seventh largest producer of coal with a reserve of 33.9 billion tons.

Major industries of Ukraine

The Ukrainian manufacturing sector is dominated by heavy industries such as iron and steel. These two sectors alone account for around 30% of the industrial production. Coal mining, chemicals, mechanical products (aircraft, turbines, locomotives and tractors) and shipbuilding are also important sectors. No country in Europe produces high quality and quantity of natural honey than Ukraine. About 1.5% of the country’s population is currently engaged directly or indirectly in honey production, according to World Atlas.

Advanced defence industry

Ukraine has an advanced defence industry covering the fields of aviation, shipbuilding, and missile technology.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Ukraine was left with about 30 percent of the Soviet defence industry on its territory, including about 750 factories and 140 scientific and technical institutions. Ukraine exports $1.3 billion worth of arms annually, which made Ukraine the eighth-largest arms exporter in the world between 2009 and 2013, according to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). It designs and produces passengers and transport aircraft and also has the capacity to repair aircraft. An-225, the heaviest aircraft ever built, with a maximum take off weight of 710 tons, is from Ukraine.


Agricultural products

The agricultural sector plays a major role in Ukrainian economy. In 2020, it contributed to 9.3% of the GDP and employed 14% of the working population, according to World Bank figures. It has the Europeans largest arable land and is the world's fifth largest exporter of grain.

It also leads the world in exports of sunflower and sunflower oil. It is the second highest barley producer, third largest producer of corn and fourth largest producer of potatoes.

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