How to Prepare for a Russian Invasion of Ukraine
I know you have questions about how to prepare for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a potential world war. My name is Josh Centers, and I have answers. I’m a lifelong prepper and for the past two years I was an editor at The Prepared. I’ve been flooded with questions about the Ukraine crisis, and Unprepared is dedicated to answering them with clear, actionable advice.
This article will give an overview of scenarios to anticipate if and when Russia invades Ukraine. Future installments will go into more depth on the action plans I offer here. Be sure to bookmark this page because I’ll update it as the situation evolves.
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UPDATE 2022-02-28: We now have a post on starting your food and water prep for cheap. We even have a catchy jingle!
UPDATE 2022-02-23: IT’S HAPPENING. PUTIN HAS DECLARED WAR ON UKRAINE AND HAS THREATENED THE UNITED STATES. THIS IS NOT A JOKE. ALL CAPS ARE CALLED FOR.
Putin has given the order. Don’t think you’ll be unaffected by a Russian invasion of Ukraine just because you’re sitting thousands of miles away eating chips off your chest. "I will not pretend this will be painless," said President Biden in a recent speech, warning of the possible consequences for Americans at home.
So you should prepare for pain, but let’s be clear up front: we are not alarmists. The goal of preparedness is to reduce our anxieties and quell our fears. We are going to outline realistic consequences of a Russian invasion of Ukraine alongside quick, actionable tips to better prepare yourself.
Update 2022-02-23: After a fiery speech, Putin moved Russian forces into Eastern Ukraine. As I write this, Russian forces have reportedly surrounded Ukraine and may launch a full invasion tonight.
Update 2022-02-26: France’s Macron warned of a long war.
Prepare for Pain
Biden has pushed back against calls to send troops to Ukraine, saying it would be a world war, but he’s stationed troops near Ukraine’s border: 9,000 in Poland and 2,000 in Romania (compared to roughly 150,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s border).
But even if it doesn’t come down to a direct confrontation between American and Russian forces (i.e., a world war), there will be far-reaching consequences you want to be ready for.
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Update 2022-02-26: With Russia’s partial ban from the SWIFT system, expect cyberattacks in response this next week.
So far, the main tool in the US toolbox is the threat of economic sanctions. Retaliation is almost guaranteed, mostly likely through cyberattacks, Russia’s current weapon of choice. The US government is already meeting with banks and defense contractors to warn them about Russian cyber threats.
When you think of cyberattacks, you may imagine city-wide blackouts, planes falling from the sky, and other disaster-movie scenarios. I don’t think you’ll see anything that drastic for a few reasons, not least of which is that we have nukes and we’re ready to use them to respond to major cyberattacks.
So unless things get really hairy, Russia likely won’t go hog wild shutting down the Eastern Seaboard or major weapons systems. What they will do is pull off small attacks that add chaos and confusion to day-to-day life, which otherwise goes on as (sort of) normal. And many times, the attacks won’t even be directly linked to the Russian government.
You may not even realize the odd things happening are caused by cyberattacks. For instance:
During a recent Biden speech, reporters on the White House lawn lost power. When asked if it was caused by the Russians, Press Secretary Jen Psaki didn’t deny it.
In Munich, Ukrainian President Zelensky “joked” that a Russian cyber attack made his earphones stop working. Note that Zelensky was a comedian before he was a politician.
We don’t know if those were cyberattacks or normal technical flukes, and that’s how the Russians like it. Let’s look at a few verified cyberattacks to see what they’re capable of.
In recent days, Russia is suspected of carrying out DDoS attacks against Ukrainian defense networks and banks. A DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service attack, sounds super technical but is a fairly unsophisticated method of interfering with a computer system where attackers send more traffic to a computer than it can handle. Imagine calling your favorite restaurant for a reservation, but all you get is a busy signal because 10,000 people were calling it all at once. You drive to the restaurant, only to see a line out the door and around the block. That’s essentially what a DDoS is, only with computers.
Update 2022-02-23: Ukraine was hit by a wave of DDoS attacks today targeting government websites and banks.
Despite being simple, a DDoS can quickly shut down websites and servers that run things like banks. However, Russia is capable of much more sophisticated attacks, like when hackers infiltrated Ukrainian government websites in January, posting messages like:
Ukrainians! All your personal data was uploaded to the internet. All data on the computer is being destroyed. All information about you became public. Be afraid and expect the worst.
Spooky, but this is effectively the equivalent of graffiti. However, it sent a message: we have ways of infiltrating your computer systems. But Russia is capable of more than mere cyber graffiti:
In 2020, Russian hackers infiltrated US government networks and stole data, often dubbed the “SolarWinds attack,” or as a SolarWinds vice president put it, a “worst nightmare.” The attack was unnoticed for months, and it is entirely possible that Russia still has access to government networks. In March of 2021, a year after the attack started, the Biden administration called it an “active threat.”
In June of 2017, the Russians unleashed the NotPeya malware on the world, starting with Ukraine. NotPeya is what is known as ransomware, which encrypts your computer, making it unusable unless you pay a ransom, usually through cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It’s estimated NotPeya caused upwards of $1 billion in damage, shutting down shipping ports, corporations, and even government agencies.
In 2015, Russian hackers cut power to 230,000 Ukrainians for 1-6 hours.
That’s only a handful of examples, but a common theme emerges: create as much chaos, fear, and confusion — and steal as much data — as possible without drawing a significant response.
We’ll cover cyber attacks in detail in the weeks to come, but how can you prepare yourself right now?
Be ready for unexpected power outages, which you should be doing anyway. At least put together a blackout kit in an easily accessible place with things like flashlights and batteries.
Have cash on hand in case banks and ATMs are taken offline.
If you keep your money in an online bank, move at least a little bit to a local bank or credit union.
Keep printouts of important documents.
Enable two-factor authentication for as many online accounts as possible.
These are minimal precautions, but if you know what you’re doing they could all be handled in an afternoon.
Higher Fuel Prices
2022-02-26 Update: With Russia’s partial ban from SWIFT, Russia may cut off oil and gas exports in response, even though today’s proposed ban would explicitly exclude oil and gas sales.
He who controls the oil controls the universe, and Russia controls a lot of oil and natural gas. We import 12 to 26 million barrels from Russia per month, and our oil imports from Russia are the highest in a decade. In 2020, we imported 7% of our oil supply from Russia.
Meanwhile, Europe gets 35% of its natural gas from Russia, and Russia is Europe’s largest natural gas supplier as well as its biggest oil supplier. That gives Russia a major lever of control over Europe. Expect Europe to stay neutral in the Russia-Ukraine conflict for as long as possible for the same reason that the US government ignores so many of Saudi Arabia’s…um…peccadillos.
UPDATE 2022-03-02: I was very wrong about Europe (as were most foreign policy analysts). They were swift to take aggressive action against Russia, despite the potential blowback.
While Russia doesn’t have us over an oil barrel as much as they do Europe, 7% of our oil supply is nothing to sneeze at, and Russia could cut it off overnight. Even if Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine, we’re already seeing an uptick in oil prices. If Russia cuts off their chunk of our supply, it will almost certainly lead to even higher fuel prices and even possible shortages.
Prepare now by stocking up on gas and making yourself less dependent on it:
Store gas in good-quality containers, ideally in a building not connected to your house.
Gas does not last long. Buy some fuel stabilizer and follow the instructions to extend your gasoline’s shelf life.
Think of essential tools you own that require fuel and consider alternatives that don’t need gas. For instance, buy an axe as a backup for your chainsaw.
Don’t contribute to panic buying. If it’s already started, hold off on buying gas until things have calmed down unless you need it, or consider going at an odd hour of the night.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do about fuel prices. We’ll probably all be crying at the pump before this is over.
Update 2022-02-23: Oil reached $100 per barrel after Putin launched the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Follow Unprepared for tomorrow’s news today.
High Food Prices, Food Shortages, and More Supply Chain Madness
Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters. Ukraine is the fourth-largest exporter of wheat and the third-largest exporter of corn. Russia is the number one exporter of wheat.
The good news, if you’re reading from the United States, is that we produce a great deal of food ourselves. However, as we’ve all learned over the past couple of years, supply chains are complex and fragile things. If a great deal of the world’s corn and wheat vanish from the market, it only stands to reason that corn and wheat prices will go up because there will be less of it. That means that the prices of most baked goods will go up, as will the price of meat since so much livestock is raised on corn. That, in turn, could have even more unanticipated third-order effects.
Russia is also a major exporter of fertilizer, producing two-thirds of the world’s ammonium nitrate. The “good” news is that Russia has already halted ammonium nitrate exports until April in order to protect its own supply, so that factor is already baked into food prices, but could get worse. Add to that sanctions on Belarus, which has led to a major potash producer declaring that it won’t be able to fulfill existing orders.
On top of the food situation, Russia is the world’s top exporter of palladium, an incredibly rare metal commonly used in automotive catalytic converters. Palladium is so expensive that many car thieves will steal the catalytic converter instead of the whole car, like what happened to a friend of mine recently. If the world’s palladium supply dwindles, expect even higher automotive prices and more car theft.
To make matters worse, a Russian invasion is expected to make the existing microchip shortage even worse. Both Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of industrial gasses used in semiconductor fabrication. How bad is the existing chip shortage? GM has had to abandon heated seats in its new vehicles. In the middle of winter. (If you’re anxious to buy a new Apple device now, check out Apple Buying Advice.)
How you can prepare now:
Build up stockpiles of non-perishable foods to increase your resiliency.
Consider planting a garden. Now is an excellent time to start thinking about it.
If your budget allows, go ahead and buy resilient tools you’ve had your eye on before prices go up more. If you intend to plant a garden, go ahead and buy the tools you need.
We’ll cover all these topics in detail in the coming weeks. Subscribe to Unprepared to stay on top of the Ukraine situation and navigate it with confidence.
I’m deliberately avoiding the word “chaos,” because it’s alarmist, but we can expect funkiness. By funkiness, I mean unexpected side effects, both good and bad, but probably mostly bad. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic and its responses led to supply chain issues, inflation, and workers quitting in droves while the stock market sometimes hit record highs.
Putin has a good reason to be interested: although it’s currently off the table, Biden has flirted with banning Russia from the SWIFT international payment system, which is used in over 200 countries. European banks are convinced it’s still a distinct possibility.
Update 2022-02-26: It’s more than just flirtation at this point. Read the updated section heading below.
If that happens, Bitcoin would give Russia a workaround to trade with its partners, and the United States and its allies would be hard-pressed to stop it. Currently, the US Dollar is the world’s de facto exchange currency, but Russia officially adopting Bitcoin could be a tipping point to establishing Bitcoin as the new reserve currency, upending the global financial order.
As evidence of this, El Salvador recently adopted Bitcoin as an official currency, and factions in the US government are spooked. A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Senate called the Accountability for Cryptocurrency in El Salvador (ACES) Act, which would require a State Department report on “El Salvador’s adoption of Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, as legal tender and a plan to mitigate potential risks to the U.S. financial system.”
With no disrespect intended to the good people of El Salvador, it’s a small player on the world stage. If El Salvador adopting Bitcoin is causing alarm in the US government, imagine what would happen if a major player like Russia took the plunge?
It’s hard to imagine the consequences because it would be the biggest shakeup of the world financial order since the dissolution of the Bretton Woods system in 1971. However, there are some basic financial preparations that are always a good idea:
Build up an emergency fund. You ideally want 3-6 months of expenses, but if you can save $1,000 as you pay off debts, it’s a good start.
Keep some of that emergency fund in cash in a safe place on your property, like a safe.
Pay off debt as you’re able, going from smallest to largest. Debt can be a good thing if managed properly, but it exposes you to risk.
Understand that cash isn’t a safe investment. Interest rates are extremely low while inflation is high: at least 7.5% in the past year, with some estimates of it being as high as 18%. But it may even be worse: the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac is up 40%. That isn’t a meaningless statistic: since 1986, The Economist has used the price of a Big Mac as an index of the buying power of currencies.
It’s a stressful time to be an investor. Inflation is high and both stock and crypto markets are volatile. We’ll be covering personal finance and investments in the future. However, it’s hard to go wrong with hard assets like storable food, stored water, arable land, quality tools, and — if it’s your thing — ammunition.
2022-02-26 Update: The SWIFT Ban
The United States and European allies have agreed to partially ban Russia from SWIFT. It’s not aimed at every Russian bank, but it does target the biggest ones. It also allows oil and gas payments (because of course it does).
Despite some pulled punches, this is a major move. We fully anticipate some sort of retribution, most likely in the form of a cyberattack. Russia may also choose to end oil and gas exports in response.
Global Thermonuclear War
I stated up front that we are not alarmists, and I meant it. However, with Putin personally overseeing nuclear drills that include “multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles,” we cannot entirely discount a nuclear confrontation.
It probably goes without saying that if that does happen, it would be devastating and unpredictable. The good news is that it is also probably unlikely. Putin’s nuclear drills are a show of strength more than anything else, and not even he wants a nuclear war. We lived under such a threat for much of the 20th century, but it didn’t happen. Cooler heads prevailed.
So how do you prepare for a situation that is unlikely but potentially devastating? Some turn their lives upside down and move into bunkers. My response is:
Acknowledge the threat.
Make simple, inexpensive preparations just in case.
Don’t sweat it.
I can’t emphasize point three enough. Don’t sweat it. A nuclear war may never happen, but anxiety about it WOULD certainly harm your health and happiness, and there is no point in stressing about a situation that you can’t control. Let’s focus on what you can control.
In short, a nuclear detonation poses three threats: initial impact, radiation poisoning, and electromagnetic pulses (EMP). It would take radical action to protect yourself from the impact, but the other two can be prepared for with little money or stress.
UPDATE 2022-03-06: I originally stated that potassium iodide can prevent radiation poisoning. It does not. It prevents thyroid cancer.
An easy and cheap way to protect yourself from thyroid cancer caused by radiation is potassium iodide, which is FDA-approved to block uptake of radiation to the thyroid gland. There are currently four potassium iodide products approved for over-the-counter sale in the United States:
iOSAT tablets, 130mg, from Anbex, Inc.
ThyroSafe tablets, 65mg, from Recipharm AB.
ThyroShield oral solution, 65mg/mL, from Arco Pharmaceuticals, LLC, which doesn’t seem to be available for purchase.
Potassium Iodide Oral Solution USP, 65mg/mL, from Mission Pharmacal Company. This one is suited for kids but is currently out of stock.
I’m glad that these medications are available over the counter and as low as $10 per box, but I must warn you of two things:
Potassium iodide is a serious chemical that can cause illness or death. Do not take it as a supplement “just in case.” Follow the package instructions to the letter and only take it in case of a radioactive emergency.
As with any medication, keep it out of reach of children and pets. Lock it up for safekeeping if possible.
There is a preventative for radiation poisoning. It’s much safer than potassium iodide, but you’re going to think I’m crazy: miso soup. Medical staff working in the aftermath of the Nagasaki bombing found that they were unaffected by radiation poisoning when they regularly ate miso soup, and recent experiments have indicated that it works. I’m still skeptical, but miso is cheap, tasty, healthful, easy to make, and shelf-stable, so it’s a total win. You’ll want red miso paste, which is more fermented than white miso. Black miso would be even better but it’s hard to find. Just add the prescribed amount of paste to hot water.
Let’s address the risk of EMP, something much talked about in prepper circles. In short, an EMP can fry electrical appliances and electronics. Again, we’re talking about something that is unlikely but devastating so we want a cheap, simple solution.
A good defense against EMP is what is known as a Faraday cage. You can easily fashion one out of a trash can or metal ammo can. Pad it, toss some spare electronics inside, and you’re good to go. Ham radio authority Josh Nass shows how you can build one for well under $100:
What’s great is you won’t go broke investing in these preps for an event that will hopefully never happen, and you’re not throwing money away. There are a million uses for trash cans and ammo boxes. And you’ll have tools that help you confront even a nuclear war.
That’s the power of preparedness: having a plan and tools to navigate even the unthinkable and confronting life’s challenges with confidence. We do not live in fear, but with power, love, and a sound mind.
If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe and help me spread key news updates and sensible preparedness advice. Help me help you. I will tell you what you need to do to prepare yourself for potentially the biggest European war since World War II, and we won’t stop there. Whether it’s growing your own food, preserving your harvest, making tools, or putting out a fire, I’ll be here to help. Let’s prepare for the 2020s and beyond.