As tens of thousands of Russian troops continue to mass along the Ukrainian border, and with diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Russia yet to bear fruit, the threat of a Russian invasion within the next few weeks appear to be growing.
A Russian invasion of Ukraine has the potential to cause extensive and debilitating disruption across global supply chains, resulting in rising input costs to a heightened threat of cyber attacks (see below).
Today thousands of U.S. and European companies do business with suppliers in Russia and Ukraine, which could be at risk during a prolonged military conflict. Analysis of global relationship data on the Interos platform reveals key findings:
-More than 1,100 U.S.-based firms and 1,300 European firms have at least one direct (tier-1) supplier in Russia.
-More than 400 firms in both the U.S. and Europe have tier-1 suppliers in Ukraine.
-Software and IT services account for around 12% of supplier relationships between U.S. and Russian/Ukrainian companies, compared with 9% for trading and distribution services, and 6% for oil and gas. Steel and metal products are other common items purchased from the two countries.
While the proportion of U.S. and European supply chains that include tier-1 Russian or Ukrainian suppliers is relatively low, at around 0.75%, this figure increases significantly when indirect relationships with suppliers at tier 2 and tier 3 are included.
-More than 5,000 firms in both the U.S. and Europe have Russian or Ukrainian suppliers at tier 3 (representing 2.76% and 2.37% of their respective supply chains).
-More than 1,000 firms in both the U.S. and Europe have tier-2 suppliers based in Ukraine, with around 1,200 dependent on suppliers at tier 3.
Supply chain and information security leaders in U.S. and European organizations should review their dependence on Russian and Ukrainian suppliers at multiple tiers as a key first step in their efforts to assess risk exposure in the region and ensure operational resilience.
Four Major Risks for Global Supply Chains
In the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, there are four major areas where global supply chains could be negatively impacted:
1. Commodity prices and supply availability
2. Firm-level export controls and sanctions
3. Cyber security collateral damage
4. Wider geopolitical instability
1. Commodity price increases. Energy, raw material and agricultural markets all face uncertainty as tensions escalate. Russia provides over a third of the European Union’s (E.U.) natural gas, and threats to this supply could force up prices at a time when companies and consumers are already facing higher energy bills. Natural gas supply pressures likely would spike volatility in other energy markets too. By one estimate, an invasion could send oil prices spiraling to $150 a barrel, lowering global GDP growth by close to 1% and doubling inflation. Even lower estimates of $100 a barrel would cause input costs and consumer prices to soar.
Food inflation is another risk, with Ukraine on track to being the world’s third largest exporter of corn, and Russia the world’s top wheat exporter. Ukraine is also a top exporter of barley and rye. Rising food prices would only be exacerbated with additional price shocks, especially if core agricultural areas in Ukraine are seized by Russian loyalists.
Metal markets may also continue to be squeezed. Russia controls roughly 10% of global copper reserves, and is also a major producer of nickel and platinum. Nickel has been trading at an 11-year high, and further price increases for aluminum are likely with any disruption in supply caused by the conflict.
2. Firm-level Export controls and sanctions. Commodity cost pressures could be exacerbated by targeted U.S. and European export controls. The use of such controls to restrict certain companies or products from supply chains has soared over the last few years. While many have been aimed at Chinese companies, a growing number of Russian firms have been earmarked for export controls for “acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”.
Prominent Russian companies already on a U.S. restrictions list include Rosneft and subsidiaries and Gazprom. Extending export controls and sanctions to Gazprom’s subsidiaries, other energy producers, and key mining and steel market firms could further impact supply availability and input costs. Not surprisingly, U.S. companies and business groups are urging the government to be cautious in how it applies any new rules.
U.S. and E.U. export controls would also likely target the Russian financial sector – including state-owned banks – if an invasion takes place, and may be a tactic for deterrence as well. U.S. officials have noted that any sanctions would be aimed at the Russian financial sector for “high impact, quick action response”.
3. Cyber security collateral damage. Entities linked to malicious cyber activity may also face further repercussions from the U.S. and its partners. Ukraine is certainly no stranger to Russian cyber aggression. Russia has twice disrupted the Ukrainian electric grid, first in December 2015 leaving hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians in the cold, and then again the following year. But destructive attacks on the country’s infrastructure could also spark significant collateral damage in global supply chains.
In 2017, the NotPetya attack on Ukrainian tax reporting software spread across the world in a matter of hours, disrupting ports, shutting down manufacturing plants and hindering the work of government agencies. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimated that victims of the attack, which included companies such as Maersk, Merck and FedEx, lost a combined $7.3 billion.
This figure could pale in comparison to the global supply chain impact of a Russia-Ukraine military conflict, which would inevitably include a cyber element. Whether Russia would target its cyberwar playbook at U.S. or E.U. targets in retaliation for any support to Ukraine remains hotly debated. But the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA) has been urging U.S. organizations to prepare for potential Russian cyber attacks, including data-wiping malware, illustrating how the private sector risks becoming collateral damage from geopolitical hostilities.
4. Geopolitical instability. Just as cyber warfare would be unlikely to remain within Ukraine’s borders, so the destabilizing effect of a Russian invasion could have wider geopolitical ramifications. In Europe, a refugee crisis could emerge, with three to five million refugees seeking safety from the conflict. In Africa and Asia, rising food prices could fuel popular uprisings. Of the 14 countries that rely on Ukraine for more than 10% of their wheat imports, the majority already face food insecurity and political instability.
China is watching closely to see how the world responds if Russia invades Ukraine. The superpower has its own aspirations of seizing territory and extending its sphere of influence. Taiwan’s defense minister has remarked that tensions over Taiwan are the worst in 40 years. A Russian invasion could further embolden China to enlist military tactics against Taiwan – something that, as well as its far-reaching geopolitical implications, would have a significant impact on electronics and other global supply chains.
Although many of these risks may not materialize, and represent a worst-case scenario, executives should be thinking now about the potential impact of a Russia-Ukraine military conflict on their operations over the coming months. These same leaders need to ensure that appropriate contingency plans are in place for their most critical supply chains and riskiest suppliers in the region.
Risk mitigation strategies include:
-evaluating required levels of inventory and labor in the short to medium term;
-discussing business continuity plans with key suppliers; and
-preparing to switch to, or qualify, alternative sources for essential products and services.
With proper analysis, planning and execution, it is possible to mitigate significant risk and ensure operational resilience.