A Finnish-flagged cargo ship carrying Ukrainian corn destined to become animal feed arrived in Spain June 13, the Spanish regional feed manufacturers association Agafac reported. The 18,000 tonne shipment is merely a small victory in Ukraine’s grueling defense against Russia’s invasion.
The shipment went by a new route – from Ukraine through the Polish port of Swinoujscie on the Baltic Sea, with a stop at the Port of Brunsbuettel in northern Germany before heading to Spain – all to get around Russia’s naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
In the almost four months since it invaded Ukraine, the Russian army has moved from the shelling of cities, torture of civilians and the pillaging of Ukrainian homes to blockading Black Sea ports to prevent Ukraine from exporting produce to the world’s most vulnerable countries.
At the same time, Russia is also plundering Ukraine’s grain stores and peddling the grain abroad at discount prices to fuel its war machine and prop up its economy. Russia has also stepped up efforts to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure used for agriculture.
For example, according to CNBC Russia bombed a freight railcar repair factory in Kyiv in early June to squeeze global food supplies further. These wagon cars can potentially move grain and other cargo, like humanitarian aid for example.
Speaking at the June 6 Virtual Roundtable on Food Security Issues Arising from Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was blunt in describing Russia’s actions as “blackmail” and “exporting starvation and suffering” to countries in Africa that are bearing the burden of the shipping blockade.
“Right now, a Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea is preventing Ukraine’s crops from being shipped to their normal destinations,” Blinken stated, “There are credible reports, including as we saw in one of our leading newspapers today, that Russia is pilfering Ukraine’s grain exports to sell for its own profit.”
Ukrainian First Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Taras Vysotskiy warned back in April that invading Russian forces had stolen “several hundred thousand tons” of grain from occupied territories.
“Today, there are confirmed facts that several hundred thousand tons of grain in total were taken out of Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk Regions,” Vysotskiy said.
Crimea’s administrative head Sergei Aksyonov boasted to Krym 24 television on June 15 that Russia is shipping grain stolen from occupied Ukrainian territories through the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
“So, there are 20 million tons of grain sitting in Ukraine right now waiting to get out. And again, in a normal year, all of that would already be on the market, and it’s not, and there’s one reason,” said Jim O’Brien, the head of the State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination. He noted that this grain could feed 200,000 to 400,000 people. Before Russia invaded, Ukraine had been exporting six million tons of grain monthly, VOA reported.
Canadian Members of Parliament heard more details about the grain blockade’s effects from Ukrainian Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Mykola Solskiy, who spoke to the House of Commons Agriculture Committee by video in early June. Russia has stolen 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat and has occupied a quarter of Ukraine’s arable land in certain regions, he said.
“They are now taking this grain to Russia. They mix it with Russian grain and claim that the origin of this grain is Russia,” he said, adding that Ukraine tracked cargo ships containing its wheat to Syria.
The US, UN and EU have been working on solutions to get Ukrainian grain to its buyers by getting around the Russian blockade, preventing the destruction of grain stores in Ukraine and thwarting Putin’s plan to benefit from the stolen goods.
The EU has set up two land routes to ship Ukrainian grain. Because Ukraine’s grain transport infrastructure is designed to transport grain south, the overland routes are considered a “transitional solution,” explained Caitlin Welsh, the director of the Global Food Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Because clearing the grain backlog could take up to two years by rail, according to one European diplomat speaking to CNN, the EU is really hoping to find a viable sea route, which could clear shipments in half a year. Romania is lending Ukraine the port of Constanta, from where corn was shipped in May.
“Twenty million tonnes of grain have to leave Ukraine in less than three months using the EU infrastructure,” EU transport commissioner Adina Valean explained. “This is a gigantic challenge, so it is essential to coordinate and optimise the logistics chains, put in place new routes, and avoid, as much as possible, bottlenecks.” Brussels is asking authorities to cut back on red tape and to hire extra border staff.
Canada has vowed to help get Ukraine’s wheat to Africa and the Middle East by sending cargo ships to ports in Romania and neighboring countries, The Canadian Press reported in May.
“We are on this. We are in solution mode, and it is Canada’s contribution to making sure that we participate in this great mission of freeing the Ukrainian wheat,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly stated after G7 and EU meetings in mid-May.
The US is also working with Ukraine to ship at least three million tons of grain, CNN reported. As outlined at the food conference, the US is also proposing temporary storage mechanisms to preserve the grain for later shipment.
Another part of the US solution is to convince Ukraine’s African and the Middle Eastern grain customers to decline purchasing stolen grain from Russia. The New York Times reported that US officials had in May warned 14 countries, mostly in Africa as well as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Turkey, that Russia was trying to ship stolen Ukrainian grain to buyers overseas.
But the US needs a delicate approach to avoid looking like it is dictating food policy and morality to countries facing dire food shortages.
Samuel Nyandemo, an economics teacher at the University of Nairobi, told VOA he believes Africa won’t buy stolen grain from Russia.
“I don’t think whether there is any African country willing to buy stolen grains from Ukraine sold by Russia. They will look for better alternatives,” he said. For example, Egypt refused a shipment of stolen grain from Russia in May.
However, Hassan Khannenje, director of the HORN International Institute for Strategic Studies, disagrees. He expects that the urgent need for food will push African nations to purchase cheap grain from anywhere, even from Russia.
“This is not a dilemma,” Khannenje said. “Africans don’t care where they get their food from, and if someone is going to moralize about that, they are mistaken.”
This was evident in early June when Senegal president Macky Sall met the Russian president in Sochi to talk grain purchases. The United Nations warned that the war could push half the population of Sudan to the brink of famine by September. East Africa is facing its worst drought in 40 years, exacerbated by rising food and fuel prices, VOA reported. Together with Russia, Ukraine usually satisfies about 40% of the wheat needs of Africa, the United Nations reported. Sudan imports up to 80% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia, reported AFP.
For those countries hoping to remain neutral or professing that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a European problem alone, they will soon have to choose sides. Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have taken the whole world hostage from jumps in inflation and fuel prices in North America to a food crisis in Africa and the Middle East.
Putin is attempting to blackmail developing countries with stolen food supplies. He is also trying to split global support for Ukraine using hunger as a bargaining chip by selling off stolen wheat at reduced prices. Countries like Somalia and Sudan, facing famine, shouldn’t have to be backed into a moral corner – starve or face rebuke for accepting stolen grain at cheap prices.
The EU and the West are facing their own moral dilemma, having become too dependent on Russia energy supplies and too accepting of the wealth and investments of Russian elite.
Like any street bully, Putin continues to press all the buttons of allied countries like famine, nuclear attack and fuel shortages to keep them off balance. With every corner of the globe impacted by the war, it’s time for the world to unite and take a firm and assertive stance against tyranny and help end the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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