Battle for Ukrainian Titan

Western support for Ukraine last year has inextricably linked the US and its European Union and NATO allies to the fate of Kyiv. The president Vladimir PutinThe second invasion of the country appears to have backfired, pushing Ukraine even deeper into the arms of the Euro-Atlantic community and bolstering Kyiv’s aspirations for EU membership. EU and NATO.

A nascent effort is underway in the US and allied countries to identify, develop and harness Ukraine’s vast resources in the form of a key metal critical to developing the West’s most advanced military technology that will form the basis of future deterrence against Russia and China.

Titanium is a lightweight yet strong metal widely used in advanced military devices such as fighter jets, helicopters, warships, tankslong-range missiles and many others.

If Ukraine wins, the US and its allies will be in a good position to create a new titanium mining channel. But if Russia succeeds in capturing the country’s fields and factories, Moscow will increase its global influence over increasingly strategically important resources.

This composite image shows, clockwise from top left, the US destroyer USS Zumwalt on December 7, 2016 in the Atlantic Ocean; a US-made South Korean F-35 fighter on November 18, 2022 at an undisclosed location in South Korea; two Russian Su-57 fighters on August 27, 2019 in Zhukovsky, Russia; and the Russian T-90 main battle tank in Moscow on June 17, 2020. Titanium is widely used in the defense industry.
US Navy/General Dynamics Bath Iron Works via Getty Images / South Korean Ministry of Defense via Getty Images / DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images / Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

vital commodity

The Department of the Interior has graded titanium as one of 35 minerals vital to US economic and national security. But the US still imports more than 90 percent of its iron ore, and not all from friendly countries.

The US no longer holds titanium sponge in its national defense stockpile, and the last domestic producer of titanium sponge closed in 2020.

Ukraine is one of the seven countries producing titanium sponge, the basis of titanium metal. China and Russia — America’s most prominent strategic rivals — are in this select group.

China produced over 231,000 tons titanium sponge last year, according to the US Geological Survey, accounting for 57 percent of global production. This is followed by Japan with 17 percent and Russia with 13 percent. Kazakhstan produced almost 18,000 tons and Ukraine over 4,000 tons.

Moscow’s energy weaponization has raised fears in Washington DC and other NATO capitals that the Kremlin may one day also freeze titanium exports, embarrassing aerospace and defense companies.

The West’s reliance on Russian titanium means the metal has so far eluded sanctions campaigns launched against Moscow by the US, the EU and their allies.

Aerospace giant Boeing is maintaining its joint venture with Russia’s VSMPO-Avisma – the world’s largest titanium exporter – although it froze orders after the invasion. Others, such as the European commercial aircraft corporation Airbus, continue to purchase titanium from VSMPO.

This was reported by a source familiar with the US defense industry, who did not wish to identify himself because his employer did not authorize him to speak publicly. Newsweek that titanium “is a key vulnerability”.

“We are talking about our ability to produce more aircraft, we are talking about our ability to produce ammunition. They all depend on titanium, and we have allowed ourselves to become dependent on foreign suppliers of these things. one of those main suppliers.”

National security experts and Ukraine supporters on The Hill are increasingly urging politicians to look east. In last year’s annual defense spending bill, the State Department was directed to explore “the possibility of using titanium sources from Ukraine as a potential alternative to Chinese and Russian sources.”

“Ukraine has really significant rare earth mineral reserves, and if we play our cards right, this could be a really attractive alternative to Russian and Chinese sources, on which there is currently a lot of dependence,” said a congressional staff member, who also asked not to be named. since they were not authorized to speak publicly – they said Newsweek.

“As there is an increasing debate in the West about why it is in our best interest to continue to support Ukraine, I think this is one of the arguments that you will begin to hear more often.”

spoils of war

President of Russia Vladimir Putin and his allies offered a dizzying array of justifications for the ongoing invasion. Capturing a Ukrainian titanium sponge is not one of the Kremlin’s public goals, but would be a boon for Moscow.

Russia has a relatively low level of titanium mineral reserves, and in 2021 Ukraine was actually its main source of titanium imports, according to USGS.

Much of the fighting has taken place in eastern and southern Ukraine, home to trillions of dollars worth of mineral deposits. Russian troops captured at least two titanium ore deposits in the first months of the invasion.

Even before the February attack. Moscow has sought to protect vital titanium resources through its corrupt network of oligarchs, officials and intelligence assets in Ukraine.

magnate Dmitry Firtash, who now lives in exile in Austria, was forced in 2021 to sell his 49 percent stake in the Zaporozhye Titanium and Magnesium Combine — Europe’s only sponge titanium plant — after he was accused of selling titanium to Russia for military use. . In January 2022, Firtash sold the Crimean titanium plant to the Russian company Titan.

Andrey Brodsky, General Director of the Ukrainian titanium company Velta, announced this. Newsweek this metal is vital to Russia’s ongoing attacks.

“Rockets that fly to Ukraine almost every day have a very high titanium content,” he explained. According to him, Moscow could face “a significant shortage of modern precision-guided weapons” if it cannot secure new supplies of titanium.

Ukrainian workers at the site of a missile attack on Russia
Workers repair electrical cables in an industrial area following a Russian early morning missile strike that killed one person and injured two on January 26, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has devastated the latter’s economy and endangered valuable natural resources such as titanium.
Roman Pilipey/Getty Images

Getting better access to Ukrainian titanium will help the US in its boil conflict with Chinawhich politicians expect will dominate the 21st century.

Titan, said a source with knowledge of the defense industry Newsweek, is needed to create a weapon that will help contain Beijing. “I think the Chinese, unfortunately, have a very good understanding of the US military industrial base and its vulnerabilities,” they said.

Advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., are gaining momentum, a congressional official said, describing a “light bulb has gone off” in conversations with lawmakers. “It’s definitely a niche and it definitely doesn’t get the same attention as Ukraine’s immediate military needs, but that’s what we intend to focus on.”

The direct involvement of the White House may be required to oil the wheels, according to a defense industry source. “Nothing focuses attention like a crisis, I think that’s what the US likes to do.”

“The conversations that happen at the low level sometimes take quite a while to filter to the higher levels, and I think that’s what’s happening here… I think the people who are in charge of things like The Production Act defense knows they need to figure out what to do with the titan.”

“They know they need to look at things like a Ukrainian source. I don’t think they got the call from the highest levels: the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, and the White House.”

Use of Ukraine

Ukraine has serious work to do to rebuild the country and attract Western investors as it seeks to join the Euro-Atlantic community. Estimated renovation costs reach $1 trillion; is the number given by the president Vladimir Zelensky myself.

Kyiv hopes that its titanium industry will become one of the pillars for attracting foreign money and the associated political protection.

“Today we have titanium and lithium, both are in high demand now, and in the future the demand for them will be even greater,” Oleg UstenkoThis was stated by the economic adviser to Zelensky. Newsweek. “I understand that most of these deposits are not even used. The business opportunities in this sector are really huge.”

“This is important in terms of increasing stability in the global system and the global supply of these products. We really see our role not only in the EU, but also in terms of global supplies. I really think that this is a really important role that Ukraine could play. But again, for this we need to make sure that we are in post-war conditions.

This was stated by a senior fellow at the Institute of Foreign Policy Studies and a former professor of Russian studies at the US Army War College Stephen Blank. Newsweek Ukraine could deliver significant amounts of titanium to the West within a few months after the end of the war, whenever that happened.

“They have to rebuild the whole country from top to bottom, which is actually a great opportunity for investors if you think about it,” Blank added. Unleashing the potential will require support from governments in Kyiv and Washington, he said.

Ukrainian tank fired at Russians near Bakhmut
A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions near the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region on January 26, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The war has deprived Ukraine of investment in its titanium industry, which is looking for “strategic partners.”

“The government will play a big role… you will need signals from governments that it is okay to invest.” If Kyiv supports, “then you will see a tremendous leap forward,” Blank added.

Ukraine’s titanium industry, squeezed by war and devastated by years of corruption, is in dire need of investment. Brodsky said Velta is among the firms looking for “strategic partners” to build new factories, either in Ukraine or abroad.

Velta is already working on a new facility in the Czech Republic to showcase its Velta Ti process, which the company says can produce titanium metal powder at a lower cost and with a significantly lower environmental impact.

Brodsky said foreign investors are showing “great interest” and that the company hopes to have the Czech plant up and running by autumn and prove that Velta powder can be used to stamp, punch or 3D print aerospace parts.

According to him, similar facilities can be built in the United States. “It is obvious to everyone that the US must be confident in its titanium supply and must have something inside the country. It could even be Ukraine and the US, and Ukraine will provide the technology.”

“This definitely needs some investment and some serious attention on our part,” the congressional official said. “But in the long run, it’s worth it if we can build a steady supply from a friendly country like Ukraine.”

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