Ukraine is the world's third-largest exporter of corn, and the sixth-biggest wheat exporter. The country's most prolific wheat-producing regions lie in Russian-leaning eastern provinces -- where demonstrations against Ukraine's new government, advocating secession from the country to join Russia -- are near-daily occurrences. Just as important, much of Ukraine's wheat leaves the country via the ports of Odessa, Nikolaev and Yuzhny -- all in regions that are a hotbed of dissent now.
Result: Since bottoming at $5.58 per bushel at the end of January, the price of wheat futures contracts for delivery in May have soared 17 percent to $6.54 per bushel in morning trading Monday. (A "bushel," by the way, is 60 pounds) Nearly half that rise came during the past week.
True, America grows most of its own wheat and corn and doesn't need Ukrainian exports. But these are commodity products. If buyers who ordinarily shop for their grain in Ukraine can't get it there, they begin competing with buyers here for "our" grain -- driving up prices for American consumers of bread, cereal and pretty much everything listing wheat as an ingredient -- hot dogs and apple pie included.
Do you own a car? More precisely, do you own a car that uses gasoline? Then if you'll pardon the expression, here in the context of a war scare -- you may have just dodged a bullet.
Futures prices for Brent crude oil Monday are mostly flat compared their cost one month ago -- still in the $100 to $102 a barrel range. But that could change in a hurry. News of Russia's invasion of Crimea sent Brent prices spiking 2 percent last week on worries about Russian President Vladimir Putin's intentions, and what happened once could easily happen again.
A big exporter of energy to world markets, Russia has often used its massive oil and natural gas supplies as a tool of foreign policy. While last week's early price spike has subsided, it could repeat if Russia decides to use its control over those fossil fuel supplies to retaliate against the U.S., Canada and the European Union for the sanctions they're threatening to impose.
One sanction, announced Thursday, calls for the U.S. to restrict visa issuance to "anybody who is involved or complicit in activities that are threatening the sovereignty, territorial integrity or stability of Ukraine." The Obama administration isn't saying whom, precisely, it will target. But in years past, tightened requirements for admission of Russian citizens to the U.S. have met tit-for-tat restrictions on Americans wanting to visit Russia.
It's hard to predict what kind of blowback U.S. sanctions on Russians hoping to travel to the U.S. might entail for Americans desiring to travel to Russia to see the "White Nights" in St. Petersburg, ogle the crown jewels of the Kremlin or ride the Trans-Siberian Railway. But based on past experience, it's pretty certain we will see some form of retaliation.
Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any commodities mentioned above. A financial writer and analyst today, he previously spent more than a decade working in international law, primarily in Russia and Ukraine.