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Russia's War on Food
Putin is driving up food prices to enrich his regime. He said so himself.
Russia is waging a war on food.
On July 17, Moscow pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the United Nations and Turkey. Under the deal, Ukraine exported agricultural goods through three key Black Sea ports without fear that Russia would attack civilian cargo ships. The grain deal helped to substantially reduce the cost of wheat around the world, which spiked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But that is over now — and it is becoming increasingly evident that Russia ended the grain deal as part of a deliberate effort to both cripple Ukraine’s food infrastructure and enrich the regime in Moscow.
After exiting the deal, Moscow threatened to destroy civilian cargo ships in the Black Sea. It also unleashed an onslaught of missile attacks on several Ukrainian ports. This includes Odessa, where critical port infrastructure was damaged. Moscow also bombed grain silos in remote parts of the country to destroy food stockpiles. Perhaps most audaciously, Moscow targeted the largest riverine port in Ukraine — just across the Danube from Romania, a NATO member. This port in Reni, Ukraine was the last remaining shipping alternative following Russia’s exit from the grain deal.
As of now, one of the world’s breadbaskets has no waterways with which to export grain. Virtually no insurance underwriters are willing to extend policies to commercial shipping out of Ukrainian ports. Land routes still exist. But it is far slower— and much more expensive — to transport volumes of grain by truck as compared to cargo ship.
Russia is Bombing Ukraine’s Wheat Fields
As if this were not enough, Russia is extending its war on food to another front: Ukraine’s wheat fields. Amed Khan, an American philanthropist in Ukraine whom I recently profiled in an episode of the podcast, shares this video from a farm in Kherson Oblast which was attacked last week.
One hundred and sixty tons of wheat were destroyed.
Why is Russia Attacking Ukrainian Wheat?
The deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure has been a core Russian tactic since the start of the war. Moscow aims to terrorize and intimidate the Ukrainian population into submission. But the new wave of attacks on Ukraine’s food and agriculture infrastructure points to something even more sinister: the Kremlin is taking Ukrainian grain off the market in order to drive up commodity prices and enrich the regime in Moscow.
This is not conjecture.
Here is the Russia’s official TASS News Agency quoting Putin during a summit between Putin and several African leaders last week.
"When we announced that we were withdrawing from the grain deal, prices on the world market slightly grew. This means that our companies will receive more, which means we will receive more taxes. And if we receive more taxes, we will share part of our income with the poorest countries and deliver certain amounts of food for free," he said.
Putin stressed that Russia is doing this "not to its own detriment."
"We announced that we were withdrawing from the [grain] deal - prices have risen, our companies have earned more, the budget has received more income. We will share a part of this income. I see nothing bad here either for us or for the poorest countries that will receive this grain," the President explained.
Putin promises to share some of the spoils with African countries. But these comments, understood in the context of the ongoing targeting of Ukrainian food, reveals the nakedly imperialistic motive that is driving Russia’s war on food. So far, it seems to be working. After months of decline, wheat futures are on an upward swing and surged 5.5 percent following the attack on Ukraine’s Danube port last week.
The Ukrainian government says 180,000 tons of grain were destroyed in nine days of Russian airstrikes. With so much Ukrainian grain either destroyed or physically cut off from international markets, food prices are poised to surge even further. Most people in the world will suffer for this. But Moscow, apparently, stands ready to gain.
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