Famine: Russia blocking Ukrainian grain exports

Hunger levels around the world have reached a dramatic new high-point. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated the problem because Russia has suspended its own grain exports and is blocking those from Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Now President Putin has said that he will lift the blockade on Ukrainian wheat if the sanctions against Russia are eased. What should the West do?

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Público (PT) /

Don't resort to military solutions!

Political scientist José Pedro Teixeira Fernandes proposes measures for cushioning the impact of the blockade on grain exports from Ukraine in Público:

“Is sending warships from Nato countries to the Black Sea in a bid to break through Russia's naval blockade of Ukraine a solution? ... This is an ill-considered idea that risks exacerbating the conflict while doing nothing to help solve the food crisis. ... If there is genuine humanitarian concern for the countries of the world that are suffering in the face of rising food prices (and for Ukraine), there is an obvious alternative that should be implemented as quickly as possible. ... Namely financial aid and/or food donations for the weakest and most affected countries that are not fuelling the war.”

Times of Malta (MT) /

A crisis without precedent

The Times of Malta fears:

“The best-case scenario would be a quick end to the Ukraine war so that fuel, fertiliser and grain will start to flow again in a return to normality. The worst-case scenario could include an escalation of battlefield action that would see other countries in Europe intervening on a military level to secure the flow of grain, fertiliser and fuel from Ukraine. We have never faced anything like this. The vast majority of people have absolutely no frame of reference for what could happen if the war in Ukraine drags on for too much longer.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Things will get more complicated

Putin's strategy of linking grain deliveries to the lifting of sanctions is dangerous in every respect, De Standaard warns:

“If his plan succeeds, it will no longer be he who is the villain. Then it would be the European Union that is blocking grain deliveries to helpless countries like Egypt or Tunisia. After all, for many non-Western countries showing solidarity with Ukraine is not a matter of course. ... Naturally it's unthinkable that Europe would respond to the provocation and ease the sanctions. The opposite is more likely: that any last reservations about draining Moscow dry will disappear. That will exacerbate the conflict and increase the complexity on the world stage. It will not bring peace any closer. And that is exactly what Putin wants.”

Gordonua.com (UA) /

No solution - except an end to the blockade

The Deputy Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, Mustafa Nayyem, writes in a Facebook post reprinted by gordonua.com:

“For the first time in decades, millions of people are likely to go without food. Not because of a natural disaster but because harvested produce cannot be exported. ... Between 70 and 75 percent of our exports, including grain, goes through seaports. ... Of course we will do all we can to get the goods to their destination. But there is a problem. With the three Danube ports still under our control, freight trains and lorries, we can export a maximum of 3 to 4 million tonnes of agricultural products per month. That is just half (!) of the pre-war level. The only solution is to put an end to the blockade of Ukrainian ports. With or without weapons.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Tit-for-tat response

Russia is stubborn, La Repubblica stresses:

“People in Kyiv are beginning to remember the Great Famine (Holodomor). ... Is an international intervention conceivable? To answer this question we should be clear about what's at stake for Moscow. Russia is trying to offset the difficulties of the land war by controlling the ports on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. ... While Moscow's soldiers destroy or steal Ukrainian grain in the occupied territories - partly for Russia's ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria - the Russian blockade of Odessa is becoming a tit-for-tat response to the Western sanctions: as long as these are not eased, Russian ships won't let a single grain leave Ukrainian ports.”

liga.net (UA) /

Use missiles or divide the enemy

Investment banker Serhiy Fursa hopes for a military solution in liga.net:

“Reuters reports that the Pentagon is considering supplying Ukraine with powerful anti-ship missiles. That way, the ports will be cleared as if by magic. The second approach is to 'divide and conquer'. Russia is not the only country that can play this game. According to the Wall Street Journal, Washington is negotiating with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka: it wants him to let Ukrainian grain pass through to the Baltic states in return for the lifting of sanctions against his potash fertilisers. ... But to be honest, I prefer the first option with the missiles.”

La Stampa (IT) /

A means of pressure prepared long in advance

Putin is deliberately using the world's dependence on its wheat as a weapon, warns La Stampa:

“Is it a coincidence that in 2014, after the occupation of Crimea and the first Western sanctions, Moscow announced an 'agricultural arms build-up' to which we priests of triumphant globalisation, as usual, paid no heed? Moscow increased grain production to reduce its food dependence on Europe and the United States. ... Now in Ukraine, the real granary of Europe, wheat is rotting in the silos because the ports are blocked. ... In the east and south, the fields have become battlefields - mined and ploughed through mercilessly by tanks.”

Kommersant (RU) /

No one can get by without our wheat

Russia will have the upper hand in the looming food crisis, Kommersant is confident:

“With the start of the fighting in Ukraine, the global food market came under even greater pressure than at the height of the pandemic. ... Almost all major grain suppliers are struggling. The [Russian] Institute for Agricultural Market Studies (ICAR) points to low crop yields in Canada and Argentina and potential problems in the EU. ... Almost the only country where things are still looking good is Russia, where a record harvest is expected. Analysts are therefore predicting that Russia's share in global wheat exports could reach 20 percent, which means that it will be almost as difficult to get by without Russia's grain as it is to get by without its oil and gas.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Compel Russia to lift the blockades

The Irish Times calls for swift solutions:

“In the short-term it is also essential that Ukrainian ports be reopened and food exports be allowed to resume. The West accuses Russia of deliberately provoking shortages ..., saying Moscow has targeted transport routes and grain storage facilities. ... Russia must be compelled to create corridors so that food and other vital supplies can safely leave Ukraine by land or sea.”

Verslo žinios (LT) /

Don't yield on sanctions

It would be better to think about alternative transport routes than to offer Russia the prospect of milder sanctions in return for lifting the blockade, Verslo žinios argues:

“Such a deal would be morally unjustifiable. The aggressor must be punished for his actions, and sanctions are one of the most effective means of doing this. That is why they must not be relaxed. ... Certainly, sea transport is the cheapest and most effective export route logistically. But goods can also be transported by freight train via Poland, Moldova or Romania. ... Although this route is more complicated, longer and above all more expensive, the West could bear part of this financial burden.”

Új Szó (SK) /

Export bans no good

India has banned wheat exports to guarantee food supplies in its own country. But such steps could further exacerbate its problems, Új Szó worries:

“The governments of a growing number of major food-exporting countries are restricting exports of key products. ... To a certain degree one can understand that these countries are focused on the interests of their own populations. But every export ban contributes to food prices rising even further, which in turn means that even more families will go hungry in Africa or India.”