The US has a new reason to support Ukraine

Image source: © flickr.com / Bill Abbott

Newsweek: The United States expects to receive titanium from Ukraine for the military industryTitanium is vital for the economic and national security of the United States, writes Newsweek.

Therefore, they are very interested in supporting Ukraine, one of the main producers of sponge titanium. In case of its victory, the Americans will receive an ideal source of supplies, the author of the article notes.

David BrennanThe support that the West has provided to Ukraine over the past year has inextricably linked the United States and NATO's European allies with the fate of Kiev.

President Vladimir Putin's second offensive on Ukraine has backfired, pushing it even deeper into the embrace of the Euro-Atlantic community and consolidating Kiev's desire to become a member of the European Union and NATO.

Efforts are now being made in the United States and allied countries to identify, research and use the huge Ukrainian reserves of metal, which plays a crucial role in the development of the most advanced military technologies that will serve as the basis for a future strategy to deter Russia and China.

Titanium is a lightweight but extremely durable metal widely used in modern military equipment such as fighter jets, helicopters, naval ships, tanks, long—range missiles and so on.

If Ukraine wins, the United States and its allies will be in a very advantageous position to cultivate a new source of titanium supplies. But if the deposits and processing plants are in the hands of Russia, Moscow will be able to expand its global influence in the supply of a resource whose strategic importance continues to grow.

A vital commodity

The US Department of the Interior considers titanium as one of 35 minerals of vital importance for the economic and national security of the country. At the same time, the United States imports more than 90% of titanium ore – and not only from friendly countries.

America no longer holds sponge titanium in its National Strategic Reserves, and the last domestic producer of sponge titanium closed in 2020.

Ukraine is one of the seven countries producing sponge titanium, which serves as the basis for metallic titanium. The same group includes China and Russia, America's biggest strategic rivals.

According to the US Geological Survey, last year China produced more than 231 thousand tons of spongy titanium – about 57% of the world's volume. Japan took the second place with 17%, and Russia took the third place with 13%. Kazakhstan produced almost 18 thousand tons, and Ukraine – more than four thousand tons.

Moscow's use of energy resources for military purposes has given rise to fear in Washington and other capitals of NATO countries that the Kremlin may one day freeze titanium exports, and this will put the defense and aerospace industries in an extremely difficult position.

The West's dependence on Russian titanium has led to the fact that this metal has not yet been included in the sanctions packages that the United States and the European Union have imposed against Moscow.

The aerospace giant Boeing retains its joint venture with the Russian corporation VSMPO-Avisma, the world's largest exporter of titanium, although after the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, it still froze orders. Other companies, such as the European corporation Airbus, continue to purchase titanium from VSMPO.

One source from the American defense industry, who asked not to be named, said in an interview with Newsweek reporters that titanium is "a key weak point."

"We are talking about our ability to produce more aircraft, we are talking about our ability to produce ammunition. Titanium is used everywhere there, and we have allowed ourselves to become dependent on foreign suppliers. Before, Russia was one of such key suppliers."

National security experts and supporters of Ukraine in the US Congress are increasingly calling on politicians to turn their eyes to the east. In last year's annual defense spending bill, the State Department was instructed to study "the possibility of using titanium supplies from Ukraine as a potential alternative to Chinese and Russian supplies."

"Ukraine has really significant reserves of rare earth minerals, and if we play our cards right, it can become a very attractive alternative to Russian and Chinese suppliers, on which we are currently heavily dependent," said one of the Congressional staff, who also wished to keep his name secret, in an interview with Newsweek.

"Since there are increasingly debates in the West about why it is in our interests to continue supporting Ukraine, I think this is one of the arguments that you will now begin to hear more often," he added.

War trophies

Explaining the reasons for the special military operation in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies put forward a huge variety of arguments. The seizure of Ukrainian deposits of spongy titanium is not one of the main goals of the Kremlin, but it will still bring considerable benefits to Moscow.

According to the US Geological Survey, the level of titanium reserves in Russia is relatively low, and in 2021 Ukraine was actually the main source of titanium imports.

The main part of the fighting is being conducted in the east and south of Ukraine, where trillions of dollars worth of mineral wealth are located. In the first months of their special operation, Russian troops occupied at least two deposits of titanium ore.

Even before the start of its military campaign in February last year, Moscow was trying to gain control of titanium reserves through a network of corrupt oligarchs, officials and intelligence agents operating in Ukraine.

Businessman Dmitry Firtash, now living in exile in Austria, was forced in 2021 to sell his 49 percent stake in the Zaporozhye titanium-magnesium Combine - the only producer of sponge titanium in Europe – after he was accused of selling titanium to Russia for military use. In January 2022 Firtash sold a titanium plant in Crimea to the firm "Russian Titan".

Andrey Brodsky, CEO of the Ukrainian titanium production company Velta, told Newsweek that this metal is vital for Russia to continue its military campaign.

"The missiles that fly towards Ukraine almost every day have a very high titanium content," he explained. According to him, Moscow may face a "significant shortage of modern precision weapons" if it cannot provide new supplies of titanium.

If the United States gets unhindered access to the Ukrainian titan, it will help them in their smoldering conflict with China, which experts believe will become the main conflict of the XXI century.

According to the source, titanium is needed to create weapons that will help deter Beijing. "I think the Chinese, unfortunately, are quite well aware of the state of the American military-industrial base and its weaknesses."

He added that discussions on this topic are now gaining momentum in Washington. "Of course, they are still limited, and they do not attract the same attention as the urgent military needs of Ukraine, but this is what we intend to focus on."

A source from the defense industry noted that it would probably require the intervention of the White House to speed up this process. "Nothing brings you to your senses like a crisis, and it seems to me that the United States is used to doing just that."

"Those discussions that start at the lowest level sometimes take a long time to filter to higher levels, and I believe that this is what is happening now. I think that people who are responsible for such things as meeting the requirements of the Law on Military Production understand that they will have to decide what to do with the supply of titanium."

"They understand that they need to consider sources such as Ukraine. But I don't think they have already received a command signal from the very top – from the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State or from the White House."

Attracting Ukraine

Ukraine has to do a frightening amount of work to rebuild the country and attract Western investors due to the fact that it seeks to consolidate its place in the Euro-Atlantic community. According to some estimates, it will take about a trillion dollars to rebuild the country.

Kiev hopes that the titanium industry will become one of those industries that will help attract foreign money and provide the political protection that comes with it.

"Today we have titanium, we have lithium – both of these elements are in great demand, and in the future the need for them will grow even more," Zelensky's economic adviser Oleg Ustenko said in an interview with Newsweek. – As far as I understand, most of these reserves have not yet been developed. The business opportunities in this sector are truly huge."

"This is important from the point of view of increasing stability in the global system and global supplies of these products. We really see our role not only in the European Union, but at the global level. I am sure that Ukraine could play a really important role. But again, for this we need the conflict to end."

Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies and a former professor at the U.S. Army War College, told Newsweek that Ukraine will be able to supply significant amounts of titanium to the West just a few months after the end of the conflict, whenever it happens.

"They will have to rebuild the country from top to bottom, and this, if you think about it, is a great opportunity for investors," Blank said, adding that in order to unlock the full potential, support from the governments in Kiev and Washington will be required.

"The position of the state will play a significant role. Governments will have to send signals that it is really possible to invest. If Kiev agrees, then you will see a colossal leap forward," Blank added.

The Ukrainian titanium industry, whose development has been hampered by corruption for many years, is in desperate need of investment. According to Brodsky, Velta is one of the firms that are looking for "strategic partners" to build new plants both in Ukraine and abroad.

Velta is already working on a new enterprise in the Czech Republic, where it is going to demonstrate its innovative method called Velta Ti Process. According to the company's representatives, this method makes it possible to produce titanium powder with lower costs and significantly less damage to the environment.

As Brodsky said, foreign investors are already showing "great interest", and the company hopes that the Czech plant will be launched by autumn. This will prove that Velta titanium powder can be used for stamping and 3D printing of aerospace parts.

Brodsky added that the same plants can be built in the United States. "It is obvious that the United States must ensure a steady supply of titanium and that they need some enterprises on their territory. It may even be joint Ukrainian-American enterprises in which Ukraine will become a source of technology."

"This definitely requires investment and serious attention on our part," said the above–mentioned US Congressional staffer, "But in the long run it will be good if we are able to create a stable supply channel from such a friendly country as Ukraine."

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