What Vladimir Putin has in mind is something much greater than chipping a section off Ukraine — and it has enormous implications for the control of technology metals and fertilizer minerals. It also should have the European Union worried — the same EU was has been concerned for so long about its own lack of rare earths, graphite, antimony, tungsten and others.
What Putin has in mind is a modern day version of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or even indeed of Tsarist Russia. Moscow under both previous political systems has controlled many of the areas now, at least formally, outside its political system. After all, Nicholas II built his Lavadia palace in Ukraine. Many of the independent republics such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, were part and parcel of the Soviet Union and the Tsar’s domain.
Putin’s version of these old systems is the Eurasian Economic Union due to come into being next year, with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan as the founder members. It is clearly been conceived as counter to the EU, especially now that the Baltic states (formerly ruled by both the tsars and Soviets) have joined with Brussels, and in the case of Latvia and Estonia adopted the euro. That is probably an omelette than cannot be unscrambled, but suggestions that Ukraine was also in talks with Brussels was clearly too much for Moscow. Once Ukraine has been dealt with, expect Moscow to turn its attention to the republics of Central Asia and north of Iran, all once part of Mother Russia.
Leave aside the politics, though, and look at what would be the situation if Moscow managed to bring back all the non-Baltic Soviet republics into a loose economic union. (Loose at least for a start: to adapt Lyndon Johnson’s famous Vietnam remark, grab them by their economies and their hearts and minds will soon follow.)
Here then is a in-brief run down of the Eurasian Economic Union’s minerals power:
Russia: A leading global producer of many commodities, particularly cadmium, cobalt, gold, phosphate, platinum, potash, rhenium, tungsten and vanadium. And, of course, all that oil and gas. Russia is the world’s largest oil pumper.
Ukraine: One of the world’s top four producers of gallium (vital for high-temperature thermometers and used in semiconductors and lasers), fourth-ranked producer of rutile, fifth largest in output of titanium sponge, sixth in the ranks of iron ore miners, and eighth in the rankings of countries producing ilmenite and steel. There are also vast coal reserves. Large potash deposits have been identified in western Ukraine.
Belarus: Major potash producer at 5.3 million tonnes a year, selling to 80 countries.
Kazakhstan: The 17th largest oil producer in the world. The world’s largest uranium producer (36% of global supply). Second largest chromite miner (its 3.8 million tonnes a year accounting for 16% of world supply). Fifth largest producer of rhenium, large producer of cadmium and gallium. World’s No. 8 in zinc. About to emerge as a global player in rare earths and potash.
Georgia: Significant producer of gold and manganese.
Turkmenistan: The 24th largest producer of oil; the government claims to have reserves of 20.8 billion tonnes. Potash potential and has been working with Belarus. Some 160 known major mineral deposits.
Kyrgyzstan: Major producer of mercury and uranium (its deposits supplied Stalin’s initial nuclear weapons program). Mines 1,200 tonnes a year of antimony. Also fluorspar, REE, tin, tungsten, zinc. Planning to supply Xinjiang with coking coal. Mines gold, too, with several more mines planned.
Uzbekistan: More than 1,800 known large mineral deposits. Significant producer of gold and uranium. Huge potential for potash and lithium.
Azerbaijan: The 21st biggest oil producer (331 million barrels in 2011).
Armenia: Seventh largest producer of molybdenum; also significant potential for rhenium and salt.
Tajikistan: Out of 4,700 tonnes a year of antimony at the Dzhizhikrutstoye mine. Notable deposits of gold, bismuth, molybdenum, strontium, uranium, tin tungsten.
These are just the headline resources. Most of the former Soviet republics have considerable potential in other metals, from copper to lead to silver.