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The new Cold War?

Ukraine’s trading partners hold their rhetorical fire

Ariana Tobin Mar 6, 2014

The dispute in Crimea and Ukraine has escalated to such a level that some analysts are talking about a new Cold War, and mutually-assured economic destruction. But rhetoric aside, today’s constellation of global trading and globalization means there are more than two superpowers with an economic stake in Ukraine.

Not everyone sees the conflict through the lens of U.S. interests. Here’s a brief look at what Ukraine’s top trading partners are saying about the conflict:  

Russia – Belarus – Poland – Germany – Turkey – China – India


Russia receives 27 percent of Ukraine’s exports; 36 percent of Ukraine’s imports are from Russia.

The official stance:  Of course, “Russia cannot ignore calls for help in this [Crimea] matter and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with the international law,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Some headlines: Via the RT (Russia Today) live blog: “The coup-imposed government in Kiev is seeking foreign aid from the U.S., the EU and the IMF to address its budget shortage. The east remains defiant of the new authorities, while Russia reserves the right to deploy troops in order to prevent bloodshed.” Coverage has included scenes of Ukrainian-fueled violence and uproar — even, some activists argue, fake scenes.

In conversation: Officials say 65,000 “patriotic youth and veteran organizations” rallied in Moscow to support “fraternal assistance” (a Soviet phrase) in Ukraine. 

Some Western outlets are skeptical about those numbers from Russian officials, and suggest that most Russians aren’t actually in favor of Russian involvment in Ukraine. At least one mainstream Russian outlet has responded with, “not all Westerners share their country’s ‘official’ opinion, either.”

And the Russian language Internet loves its memes.


Belarus receives 2.6 percent of Ukraine’s exports; 6.1 percent of Ukraine’s imports are from Belarus.

The official stance: Russian-speaking Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka has ruled Ukraine’s neighbor to the North since 1994. Best known in the West for quashing citizen protests in 2010 and 2011, Lukashenka is no great supporter of popular uprisings — and he didn’t mince words this time.

Belarus has deep, long-standing economic ties to Russia, a significant population of ethnic Russians, and precarious relationships with the EU and the U.S. However, there has been no official endorsement of Russian military action in Ukraine — despite Putin’s best effort. Analysts predict Lukashenka will try to stay neutral for as long as possible. 

Some headlines: According to the independent media analysts at Belarus Digest: “Belarusian state-run Channel 1 regularly covered the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Journalists have often referred to the participants of protests and the opposition as radicals and extremists… Reporters blamed Western politicians for the situation in Maidan. ‘Maidan’ appeared also in the context of state officials-small businessmen talks with the Head of State. Lukashenka warned Belarusian business owners from getting involved into some counter-activities.” 

In conversation: From Russian-language social network VKontaktye, some say Belarusian leaders are most worried about taking a pro-Russia stance because they don’t want to give Westerners another reason to boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation championships coming up this spring in Minsk. 


Poland receives 3.8 percent of Ukraine’s exports; 4.6 percent of Ukraine’s imports are from Poland. 

The official stance: Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, has said: “Europe must send a clear signal it will not tolerate any acts of aggression of intervention.” Polish representatives have been among the most active in promoting Ukrainian-EU relations, and vocal in condemning Russian inteference.

A few headlines: Putin’s been put through the ringer: “Kiev agitators ‘trained in Poland,’ says Putin,” “Will Putin try to split Ukraine?

Part of conversation: Packages with “supplies for Ukraine” could be sent free of charge.

The cover of Polish Newsweek.


Germany receives 2.8 percent of Ukraine’s exports; 4.3 percent of Ukraine’s imports are from Germany.

The official stance: German diplomats have long been in favor of closer ties between Ukraine and the EU, but Russia is one of their most significant trading partners. They have not signed onto a U.S. proposal imposing sweeping sanctions and removing Russia from the G-8. As the New York Times reports, “the German chancellor has called for a more diplomatic solution, preferring more limited actions like many of her European counterparts” — but she has also expressed doubts about Vladimir Putin’s grip on reality.

Some headlines: From Der Spiegel: “As the conflict with Russia over Crimea intensifies, Germany is playing a central role in communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the international community has doubts that Chancellor Angela Merkel can pull it off.”

In conversation: The Berlin Wall analogies are having their moment.



Turkey receives 5.4 percent of Ukraine’s exports; 3.7 percent of Ukraine’s imports are from Turkey.

The official stance: Crimea sits 173 miles away from the Turkish coast of Anatolia. It has long been home to a community of ethnic Turks known as Tatars, and Ukraine has been a buffer between Russia and Turkey since about 1568. Tatars oppose a Russian annexation of the Crimean region — but the Turkish government relies on trade with Russia, and  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has regular meetings with Putin. To date, Ergodan’s office has said: “that it is foremost the responsibility of Ukrainians to resolve the country’s crisis” and emphasized that “instability in (Ukraine) would negatively affect the entire region.”

Some headlines: The word “stability” keeps showing up. Hurriyet Daily News used the words — “President Gül warns against new Cold War over Ukraine crisis.”

Part of conversation: Turks of Crimean Tatar descent have been demonstrating in solidarity with their Ukrainain counterparts.


China receives 3.1 percent of Ukraine’s exports; sends 3.0 percent of Ukraine’s imports.

The official stance: China wants to stay out of this one: “We condemn the recent extreme violent behaviour in Ukraine, and continue to urge all sides in Ukraine to peacefully resolve their disputes within a legal framework, and conscientiously protect the legal rights all the peoples of Ukraine,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement. They added later: “There are reasons that the Ukrainian situation is what it is today.”

Some headlines: State-run news outlet Xinhua ran a commentary this week criticizing “The West’s Fiasco in Ukraine,” with such language as “First of all, they were destined to shoot their own feet when they, under the cliche pretense of supporting democracy, interfered in Ukrainian domestic affairs by engaging in biased mediation.” People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the ruling party, published some harsh words about both Russian and American’s “Cold War thinking.”

In conversation: It’s tough to gauge public opinion from Chinese social media, but an analyst who watches Weibo, a Chinese social network, saw  at least this post get deleted. And one Taiwanese blogger takes events in Crimea as a “warning sign.” 


India receives 3.5 percent of Ukraine’s exports; sends 1.1 percent of Ukraine’s imports. 

The official stance: India studiously avoided the word Russia: “India welcomes recent efforts at reducing the tension and hopes that a solution to Ukraine’s internal differences is found in a manner that meets the aspirations of all sections of Ukraine’s population.” When questioned, however, national security adviser Shivshankar Menon said, “There are legitimate Russian and other interests involved and we hope they are discussed and resolved.” 

News coverage: In The Hindu, an article titled “Ukraine Crisis Worries India”: “Of immediate concern is the fate of some military equipment factories from where India is getting its entire fleet of medium military transport aircraft modernised. Another Ukrainian military facility provides engines for military helicopters of Russian origin, which account for a quarter of the world’s medium, medium-heavy and heavy lift helicopters. India also has contracts for sourcing naval engines.”

Chatter: Some said neither the media nor the government had given the situation enough attention.

Import/export statistics from MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity.

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