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Ukraine, Gaza and the Red Sea: how conflict is ‘bleeding into the logistics scene’

Friday, January 26, 2024

Russia’s war against Ukraine has fundamentally upended the flow of global trade. Sanctions imposed by western governments in an effort, short of engaging the former Cold War Superpower military, forced not only Vladimir Putin to rethink the functioning of the Russian economy, but supply chain managers to
rethink how, and where, they send goods.

As the war edges closer to its third year, there appear no signs that it will let up soon. Depending on who one speaks to, the stalemate (or perhaps more accurately, quagmire) can be considered the penultimate step before a final victory. Vital though for Ukraine was the rapid severing of Russian supply chains, but as the conflict ekes along it has become increasingly important that its own supply lines, both military and civilian, were altered, strengthened, and continually kept intact.

For managing director of EAS International Adam Komorowski, the first two years of the conflict could be summed up as “turbulent” for those logistics operators servicing the country. Komorowski heads up the company’s Poland operation and, as such, as found himself at the forefront of servicing demand coming from Ukraine. “A year on from when we last spoke [this marks Voice of the Independent’s (VOTI) third conversation with Komorowski], and I would say that we can now say the present situation is best
summed up as ‘no significant change,” he tells VOTI. “Supply chains were well-established in 2023, and we are now operating within those realities; the war continues, nothing new has happened and the flows of goods, particularly via airfreight, are bedded in.”

Through that bedding-in process, Komorowski notes two significant changes to the reality of serving Poland’s neighbour. The first of which is that Rzeszow- Jasionka Airport, less than 100 miles from the Poland-Ukraine border, has become a pivotal cargo hub for goods headed east. It is, Komorowski says, “now a major hub”, and has simplified some of the difficulties EAS and other logistics providers were contending with last year as a consequence of the spiking freight demand the war was fostering. Added to this, he continues, is that when one enters the gateway to visit customers at the airport, the airport itself has changed.

“When you enter the airport, you realise you are somewhere very strange,” he explains. “It looks very different to almost any other airport a supply chain operative is likely to visit, because unlike others, the airport is secured by Patriot missiles, with military installations ready to protect the airport. Nowhere else have I been where military installations are comparable in their visibility, you have these Patriot missiles standing there on the tarmac. This brings the realisation that something is going on here that is totally

While the missiles may be the most striking image, he notes that after seeing them you begin to spot all the other accoutrements of militarisation – “Humvees patrolling, fighter jets, all under the US flag”. It makes for what Komorowski describes as a “strange and scary impression”. “On one side you’re meeting customers, and yet on the other side is there is a war,” he says. “And when you consider the companies based in the region, there is a lot of industry related to the aviation market with production units here. So, for one side of that border this is strategic for the supply chain industry, with dedicated spare parts, and yet for other side it is deeply involved with the conflict. A support hub for the war in

Asked to précis how the war has changed his work, Komorowski says it has become a situation in which the conflict is “bleeding into the logistics scene”, but this, he adds, is not always sought after. For some companies, the idea of being in any way involved in the conflict is anathema, but others, he says, are actively looking to provide airfreight, handling, sea freight, or storage services in support of the Ukrainian efforts to expel the invader.

“So, yes, the war is bleeding into the logistics scene,” he says. “Some companies are taking advantage of this, and others are putting a wall up against it.” Despite the rapid growth in cargo activity at Rzeszow- Jasionka, Komorowski does not see this being a long- term change in the post-war years. He notes that there are little signs of increased investment that would dramatically increase logistics at the airport after the war. Rather, he believes, it will revert to its role as a supporting hub and regional Polish airport rather than having any future as a major international gateway.

“It seems likely that Kiev would be the natural airport when the war is over,” he says. “The only question is what Ukrainian infrastructure looks like at that point, as only then would you be able to determine how much longer capacity at Rzeszow-Jasionka is needed. But even then, one would assume that Ukrainian airports and infrastructure will be prioritised for expansion and additional investment.” Of course, Komorowski and his contemporaries are no longer facing one conflict. The Hamas attack against Israel on 7 October and the resulting Israeli siege and invasion of Gaza has added further war.

Although markedly more removed from Europe, geographically, the war in Gaza is creating similar difficulties for the logistics sector. And that reality has stepped up a notch in the wake of Houthi attacks on global shipping passing through the Red Sea. “This is going to be a really touchy point for shippers across the world,” he says.

“How will this situation impact them? Some have just stopped exporting, because to take the diversions that carriers have imposed to protect vessels is simply too long for the goods in transit, particularly medicines and fresh foodstuffs, and the costs are too high for customers. So, while we may have got used to working with the situation in the market created by the Ukrainian war, this Red Sea crisis is now the big issue for us.