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The Kremlin’s unprovoked and unjustifiable war against Ukraine has severely damaged Ukraine’s economy and exacerbated global food insecurity, especially in developing countries. Ukraine has long been the “breadbasket of Europe,” feeding millions across the globe. It was a top grain supplier to dozens of African and Middle Eastern countries in 2021, but after Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion, Russia blockaded Ukrainian trade routes through the Black Sea, mined Ukrainian agricultural fields, burned crops, destroyed Ukraine’s food storage supplies, created labor shortages, and attacked merchant shipping vessels and ports. Russia is also stealing Ukraine’s grain for its own profit, according to Ukrainian authorities, media reports, and the Kremlin’s own proxies in the occupied areas of Ukraine. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine has “disrupted agricultural production and trade in the Black Sea region, triggering an unprecedented peak in international food prices in the first half of 2022.”
In July 2022, the United Nations and Türkiye brokered the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) to alleviate the Kremlin-exacerbated global food crisis by allowing “safe navigation for the export of grain and related foodstuffs and fertilizers” from several Ukrainian ports. The BSGI has been critical to lowering inflation in global food prices and getting urgently needed grains to people around the world. Russia used false pretexts to temporarily suspend its participation in the BSGI in October 2022, and is threatening to do so again in July. Should Russia again suspend or stop participating in the BSGI, the world’s neediest would suffer most. We urge Russia to continue to participate in the BSGI and end its illegal war in Ukraine to allow a return to normal agricultural production and trade and an immediate and significant improvement in global food security.
Kremlin Wants to Profit From the Food Crisis it Made Worse
The Kremlin is weaponizing global food security as it seeks to profit from the food crisis that it exacerbated. Moscow regularly tries to shift the blame, falsely charging that sanctions imposed by the international community on Russia in response to its war against Ukraine increase global food insecurity and impede Russia’s exports of food and fertilizer. The fact is that U.S. and its partners and allies imposing sanctions on Russia have taken steps to carve out agricultural trade from our sanctions. In fact, U.S. sanctions specifically authorize transactions involving agricultural products and fertilizer. The European Union and the United Kingdom have also taken efforts to shield food and agricultural products. Meanwhile, Russia is actually restricting its own exports, seeking to maximize profits at the expense of vulnerable populations around the world. Moscow has also imposed export quotas on select fertilizers, and recently extended these quotas through May 2023. Russia is reaping record profits from exporting agricultural products, largely a result of the elevated global commodity prices caused by the war Russia started. Russia’s fertilizer revenue “soared” last year and its wheat exports were “close to record highs” in December. Russia must stop profiteering from its war and using food as a weapon of war against Ukraine, harming hungry people around the world.
Image Source: GLOBAL FERTILIZER MARKETS AND POLICIES: A JOINT FAO/WTO MAPPING EXERCISE
Disinformation Targeting the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI)
While taking in record profits, Russia also appears to be sabotaging the BSGI with irresponsible behavior and brutality which could cut off a life-saving supply of Ukrainian grain to the world just before the summer harvest begins. The Kremlin wields disinformation to discredit and undermine the BSGI. President Putin has spread lies about the geography of shipment distributions under the BSGI to falsely accuse the West of “cheating” the developing world allegedly by sending “almost all the grain exported from Ukraine” to the European Union. In September 2022, Putin said that only two out of 87 ships from Ukraine had sailed to developing countries. Citing UN data, the Guardian reported that “Putin’s claim was false by a factor of at least 10.” According to the Economist, “almost half of [Ukrainian grain] exports have gone to middle- or low-income countries in Africa and Asia.” Developing countries receive approximately 65 percent of Ukrainian wheat, while the “poorest, least developed countries,” get approximately 19 percent. Much of the Ukrainian crop shipped to Türkiye — 18 percent of total exports as of September 2022 — is reprocessed and exported as flour to countries in Africa and the Middle East.
Image Source: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
The BSGI also enables the World Food Programme to deliver humanitarian food assistance to the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan. Contrary to Russia’s disinformation, the BSGI is helping people in need by directly delivering desperately needed grains to lower-income countries, and by bringing down food prices globally. By impeding the BSGI, increasing the cost of food globally, it is people in countries seeking to import the grain who will pay the price, while Russia extracts maximum profit. The Kremlin’s lies cannot hide the truth or cover up evidence supported by data showing that Russia is harming global food security by restricting supply, and thereby keeping prices high so Moscow can make record profits from the war it started.
“Hoping For Famine”
High-ranking Kremlin officials and state-paid propagandists are openly calling on the government to weaponize hunger. In April 2022, Russia’s former president and the deputy chairman of the country’s Security Council, Dmitri Medvedev, threatened to use Russia’s food supplies, which he called “our quiet” but “formidable weapon,” to influence global food security.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russia’s state-directed propaganda outlets RT and Rossiya Segodnya, in an interview with President Putin on June 17, 2022, cited what she called a “cynical joke” about the “hope for [world] famine.” Simonyan explained that “different people” hope for famine because it will “bring them [the West] to reason,” leading to the removal of sanctions and a friendship with Russia. This will happen, Simonyan implied, because Russia’s ability to cause famine will force the West to realize that it is “impossible” not to be friends with Russia. Medvedev’s and Simonyan’s public statements about the Kremlin’s intentions to weaponize global food insecurity to blackmail Ukraine and its supporters fits the long-standing pattern of the Kremlin’s dehumanizing rhetoric and threats.
United States Helps Address Food Insecurity
The United States has long worked to reduce hunger around the world and is committed to mitigating the harmful impact of Russia’s war on global food security. The United States provided $13.5 billion in 2022 to food security efforts, including humanitarian and development assistance. The United States is historically the largest donor to the World Food Programme (WFP). In 2022 alone, the United States allocated over $7.2 billion—half of all funding— to the WFP helping to provide food to 140 million people worldwide.
The United States is also expanding its longstanding work with countries around the world to make global food systems more resilient to shifting climates and political environments and to improve supply chains to get food and agricultural products where they are needed most. The Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS), which is part of the U.S. government’s global food security initiative Feed the Future, will help Africa achieve a more food-secure future by identifying the most nutritious crops in Africa and examining how they respond to extreme climate events to provide African policymakers with information that can drive crop adaptation research and investment. Feed the Future, addresses the root causes of hunger and poverty by providing people in 20 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean the knowledge and tools they need to feed themselves.
Russia Must Stop Obstructing the BSGI
Russia’s war against Ukraine has exacerbated the global food crisis. The Russian government is attempting to deflect responsibility for its actions by falsely blaming others for the worsening crisis in the global food system.
Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine has unleashed catastrophic effects on Ukraine, its neighbors, and people across the globe. The Kremlin has wreaked death and destruction, killing and injuring thousands of civilians, internally displacing millions, making refugees of millions more, and massively damaging civilian infrastructure and food-producing agricultural lands.
The Kremlin weaponizes hunger and disseminates disinformation, attempting to deceive the international community about the causes of the food crisis and to undermine the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), which has been critical in alleviating the devastating consequences of Putin’s illegal war against Ukraine. The Kremlin lies to hide its use of blackmail to make even more money off the war it started, at the expense of the planet’s most vulnerable populations.
The BSGI has been critical for delivering food to people in need around the word and for lowering global food prices and must be extended and expanded. Any disruption to the BSGI risks another spike in global food prices, as well as lowering the confidence of insurers and commercial shippers, and creating greater uncertainty for global farmers and consumers. Disruption to the grain deal will impose new hardships on lower-income countries already reeling from dire humanitarian disasters. Russia started this war against Ukraine and Russia is using food as a weapon. Russia can and must stop its unconscionable, callous actions causing grievous harm to the people of Ukraine and to vulnerable populations around the world.