World Outrage Grows Toward Russia—This Time Over Food Crisis Sparked By Invasion
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Topline

Several high-level global officials criticized Russia on Tuesday morning for its role in the worsening international food crisis sparked by its invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters whose ports remain blocked by Russian forces, a move the United Nations says could cause millions to die.

Key Facts

David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Programme, called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “have a heart” and unblock ports to prevent unnecessary deaths in an interview Tuesday with CNN from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Earlier Tuesday in Davos, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union’s European Commission, accused Russia of using “hunger and grain to wield power” and using food as “blackmail.”

The U.N. and EU estimate about 20 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukraine, one of the world’s five largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil and meal, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

At a panel at Davos on Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg threw cold water on a plan for a naval escort operation to free the Ukrainian grain exports backed Monday by NATO members United Kingdom and Lithuania, saying any efforts to unblock the exports by sea would not be an “easy way forward.”

Key Background

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said last week ​​the war has contributed to global hunger reaching a “new high.” Ukrainian wheat feeds millions globally: Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan receive a majority of their wheat from Ukraine, while about half of the World Food Programme’s comes from the country. Beasley and Egyptian Finance Minister Mohamed Maait each warned “millions” may die if the food insecurity sparked by the war continues. Grain exports from Ukraine continue at a trickle pace by land, and the country’s agriculture ministry reported last week that grain exports so far in May are down 64% compared to 2021.

Contra

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the notion of Russia setting off the crisis, telling reporters Russia is “not the source of the problem” but rather the countries sanctioning Russia are, according to Reuters’ translation of his comments. The Russian Foreign Ministry said last week it would only consider unblocking Ukrainian ports if sanctions against Russia are reevaluated.

Chief Critic

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of “using food as a weapon” and holding the global food supply “hostage” at a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday. Blinken spoke Tuesday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba during which “they discussed potential means to export Ukraine’s grain to international markets,” according to the State Department’s readout of the call.

Surprising Fact

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies shared by CNN on Tuesday appeared to show Russian ships stealing grain from Ukrainian ports, backing the Ukrainian government’s prior assertions that Russia was stealing its grain supply.

Further Reading

Ukraine Says May Grain Exports Down More Than 60% Compared To 2021 In Latest Alarming Sign Of International Food Crisis (Forbes)

Ukraine war has stoked global food crisis that could last years, says UN (Guardian)

The blockade of Ukraine’s ports is worsening world hunger (Economist)

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