Grain as a Weapon. How Russian Aggression in Ukraine Threatens the World with Hunger

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Every year, Ukraine exports around 50 mln tons of grains, providing for 50% of global consumption of oil, 16% of corn, and 10% of wheat. But not this year. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukrainian grains have been stuck in warehouses and ports. Ukraine’s usual sea lanes for export are closed. Russian forces are blocking the Black and Azov sea ports. Unless the ports are opened, it threatens to unleash the largest food crisis in modern history.

The food export blockade is one of the dimensions of the hybrid war that Russia is waging against Ukraine. Find out why Putin wants a global food crisis, and why an attack on Ukraine is an attack on the population of the most vulnerable countries in the world.

Not Just Blocking but Stealing

Today, almost 22 mln tons of grain prepared for export are blocked in Ukraine’s warehouses. Ukrainian farmers lose approximately 170 million dollars every day because they cannot sell and export grain, explains Exporters and Investors Council Program Coordinator Olha Trofimtseva.

All because Russians are stealing grain stored in the elevators in the Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions. The data obtained by journalists suggest that in May and early June only, the occupiers took 180 thousand tons of grains out of the country. And the overall figures provided by the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food point to 400-500 thousand tons of stolen crops. 

What Happens to the Stolen Grain?

Russians have moved stolen grains to the ports in the annexed Crimea, and from there, at least 12 cargo ships took it to the Mediterranean Sea.

Their first attempt to sell it was to North African countries. They first made an offer to Egypt. The country’s government refused after the appeal of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine. Then Lebanon has also refused to buy the stolen grain. As a result, Ukrainian grain went to Syria, which is a “gray zone” and maintains friendly relations with Russia.

Apart from Syria, there is assumption that the grain stolen from Ukrainian elevators is shipped to Turkey as well.

However, it is difficult to prove, because the grain arrives in the country as “Russian grain” with supposedly proper documentation, explains Ukraine’s Ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar.

The cases of stolen Ukrainian grain are investigated by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Office.

The Largest Food Crisis Ever

The UN says that Russia’s war in Ukraine could cause the largest food crisis in human history, and that Russian invasion is also “an attack on the most vulnerable countries,” because Ukraine is an important exporter of grain.

There are several factors that can lead to a global crisis. First comes the already mentioned Ukrainian grain export blockade by Russia. Ukrainian farmers used to feed 400 mln people all over the world, and now, their food security is in danger.

Secondly, no exports from Ukraine means a rise in global market prices. The price of grains has already soared by 25%. A prolonged blockade of Ukrainian exports will only exacerbate the problem.

Thirdly, the war in Ukraine forces other countries to take care of their own food security by limiting exports of wheat and other crops. To make matters worse, Russia is not too keen on selling its own reserves either.

And finally, the sequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine has triggered a surge in global oil and gas prices, which, in turn, resulted in manufacturing costs and commodity prices rocketing in multiple countries.

The financial crisis of 2007-2009 led to unrest in 48 countries of the world. The future looming over the world with the 2022 crisis is threatening to be much worse. Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme David Beasley has warned of famine, destabilization of nations, and mass migration in the Middle East and North and West Africa caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine.

How Russia Lies about the Food Crisis

For Putin, the global food crisis is a way to destabilize the world, and therefore to divert attention from the war in Ukraine. At the same time, it’s one of the levers to pressure Ukraine into negotiating with the extortionists and the West, into lifting sanctions imposed against Russia.

In public, Russian officials resort to their favorite propaganda technique of accusing their victim of their crimes. To wit, in early June, Putin claimed that Russian Forces were not blocking exports from Ukraine and it was actually Ukraine itself that mined its seaports. Moreover, the aggressor offered to escort ships carrying Ukrainian grains through the Black Sea.

Predictably, the Ukrainian authorities did not respond to Moscow’s offer and refused to do any minesweeping around Odesa. As the war has shown, Russia never adheres to ceasefire agreements. And Odesa is currently one of the highest priority objectives for the Russian military.

Russian propaganda also promotes the narrative that the food crisis is provoked by the West’s sanctions against Russia rather than by Russian aggression against Ukraine and the blockade of Ukrainian grain. Russian media are spreading fake news claiming that the EU and the US do not allow Russians to export food and mineral fertilizers. According to them, this will be the cause of the global food deficit and famine. But this is just another manipulation in the Kremlin’s attempt to trigger unrest in Asia and Africa.

“There have never been sanctions on food, fertilizer, or medicine from Russia. This is Russian propaganda to deflect responsibility from President Putin. To ‘facilitate’ trade in Ukrainian food products, Putin needs to end Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports and let trade resume,” the spokesman for the United States Department of State Ned Price pointed out in response to Russia’s allegations.

To conquer overwhelming Russian propaganda, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell decided to write to African countries to explain the causes of the food crisis and reiterate that it is, in fact, Russia that threatens to bring hunger upon the world and not the EU’s sanctions against it in response to its war in Ukraine.

“This is a deliberate attempt to use food as a war weapon. This is a deliberate attempt to create hunger in the world, in order to put pressure on the world, and on the European Union, and on Ukraine,” Borrell said.

Despite the war, Ukraine does everything to avert world hunger. Risking their lives, farmers have sown wheat, barley, corn, and other grains. They are working the fields which have recently been in the heart of combat or still have enemy projectiles flying over them. Some farmers have already paid the highest price for it. They sacrificed their lives. 

To prevent a global food catastrophe, Ukraine’s government is committed to finding alternative shipping routes. Today, Ukrainian grain carriers are exporting crops through Romania. But this is but a small part of national reserves. That is why Ukraine is asking the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations to help unblock Ukrainian ports. And it will only be possible when Russia withdraws its forces from the sea and southern Ukraine. The world will avoid famine if Putin is stopped.

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