Howard Dahl describes the Russian troop building on the Ukraine border as “very incendiary.”
Dahl is president and CEO of Amity Technology, a Fargo-based ag equipment company that does business in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
He said that business continues to proceed as normal in Ukraine, where agriculture dominates the economy, but “everybody’s watching it, of course.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin had what was described as a tense video meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
“If Putin decides he’s going to take a little bit more land, that would be very disruptive,” Dahl said.
By "a little bit more land", Dahl would be referring to Russia’s invasion and takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
That same year, an armed group took over a Cargill sunflower crushing plant in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, which in some ways is a no-man’s land where Ukraine and Russia both have influence and where Putin may try to assert Russian dominance. A militant group called the Donetsk People's Republic also become established there.
Minnesota-based Cargill had built that Donetsk plant and still has a large presence in Ukraine.
Sunflowers are a major crop in Ukraine. Ukraine has become the No. 1 exporter of sunflower oil in the world, according to the International Trade Administration, part of the federal Department of Commerce.
A disruption in the country’s economy could have effects on the global sunflower industry, said John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association, which is based in Mandan, North Dakota.
“It could potentially open up some other markets,” said of the turmoil between Russia and Ukraine. It could also drive up the price of sunflower oil.
“We’re watching with interest, like the rest of the world,” Sandbakken said.
Others with a keen interest would include Titan Machinery and RDO Equipment. Like Amity, both had done extensive business in Ukraine, where corn, wheat, and barley are the main grain crops.
"There's great opportunity in Ukraine but know what you are getting into before you go there," Combs said.
His office hosted even hosted a delegation of Ukrainian lawmakers this year.
Given the current situation, "I would not dissuade anyone from going to Ukraine," Combs said. But people must understand that doing business in any foreign country can be very different from the U.S.
He called it "Business as usual but with a little bit more caution."
Combs said there has been a dropoff in international trade and travel across the board with the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues.
He said when COVID seems to be in retreat, there has been a "brief explosion of interest" in international trade, but that the ag sector activity has been more constant through it all.
Amity makes seeding, tillage and other farm equipment.
Dahl said Amity has sent more than 5,000 pieces of equipment over 30 years to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the major farming countries of the former Soviet Union.
He said the level of business is not what it once was.
“We largely do a lot of parts and service,” Dahl said.
Dahl said he doesn’t try to predict what Putin might do, but if Russia does get more aggressive, the U.S. and its European allies “will have to do some deep soul searching on how they respond.”