While the thoughts of the world are naturally with the people of Ukraine right now, those who know the region are also considering the broader implications of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked decision to invade a democratic neighbour.
First, of course, there is the impact on Ukraine’s neighbour, Moldova. Maia Sandu, Moldova’s pro-European president since December 2020, has declared that her country’s borders are open for Ukrainian citizens “who need safe transit or stay”. The burden this may place on a nation the WHO has described as being the poorest in its European Region is easy to imagine.
Also highly concerning for Moldova is the fact that it has its own Russian-backed ‘breakaway’ region called Transnistria which makes it potentially vulnerable to the same kind of treatment that is currently being applied to Ukraine.
Another former Soviet republic, Georgia, has a pair of similar enclaves called Abkhazia and South Ossetia that also owe their allegiance to Moscow. It is often forgotten in the west that, in August 2008, Russian ‘peacekeeping’ troops invaded Georgia, purportedly in support of these regions. That brief conflict led to the displacement of 192,000 Georgians, over 20,000 of whom were apparently still unable to return to their homes in 2014. As with Ukraine, Russia’s attack on Georgia was expressly linked to a wish to prevent it from joining NATO.
And while it might seem to be irrelevant trivia in the context of everything else that is happening, there is also a wine perspective to Russia’s actions.
When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, one of the declared aims was to reinvigorate the peninsula’s wine industry. Russian investment has certainly poured into a previously underfunded area, but this has been at the cost of a transfer of ownership away from Ukraine, and an impoverishment of the national industry. Roughly half of Ukraine’s grapes historically came from Crimean vineyards.
But it was not only the vineyards that were lost. Most notably, by 2020, Crimea’s four biggest wineries, Massandra, Noviy Svet, Inkerman and Fotisal, and over 6,700 ha of vines had all fallen into the hands of the Rossiya bank. This financial institution is the largest investor in Crimea, and on February 22nd it become the target of sanctions by the EU and UK.
Another question hangs over the future of Artwinery, Ukraine’s biggest sparkling wine producer, which is located in Bakhmut, around 20km from the country’s Eastern border. While wine industries in many other countries wish their leaders would take a personal interest in wine, many in Eastern Europe would prefer Vladimir Putin’s to have less enthusiasm for the sector.
For insight into how Crimea fits into the Russian wine industry, and how wine is produced out of thin air, read this exclusive Meininger’s report