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Moscow War Leverage: Global Food Shortages

Business, Government

Ukraine Flag on Wheat | Image by Shutterstock

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Russia and Ukraine collectively produce a quarter of the world’s grain. Ukraine alone produces 63 million tons of grains a year. Since Russia invaded Ukraine — establishing heavy occupation of the country’s largest farm region, the Donbas — Ukraine’s farm industry has lost $4.3 billion in revenue due to damages sustained from the war.

In addition to heavy farm loss and silo destruction, Russian blockades compound the problem. Ukraine is thought to have significant quantities of commodities stuck within the country, including 25 million tons of grain and sunflower oil.


Nevertheless, according to Bloomberg, the Kremlin is unwilling to make any swift moves to alleviate a growing food crisis, while Putin allegedly sees it as leverage against Ukraine and its allies.

Ukraine is understandably wary of Russian “agreements,” as the Kremlin assured the country its forces would not invade mere months before it did so.

Moscow could leverage the situation to its benefit if Ukraine demines ports in the Black Sea for ships to come in. However, this move would open the ports to attacks by the Russian forces.

The United Nations has attempted to facilitate negotiations between the two countries, but no progress has been made.

Russia is blaming EU and U.S. sanctions for the food shortages. However, the U.S. has not sanctioned Russia’s agricultural products, such as produce or fertilizer.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of stealing Ukraine’s grain and shipping it to Russia, in addition to strategically targeting and destroying Ukrainian grain storehouses.

Russia has denied such tactics and has said it does not use food as a weapon. According to Forbes, earlier this month, U.S. and UK officials reportedly confirmed that Russia was stealing grain from Ukraine and shipping it worldwide to various ports and places.

EU diplomat Josep Borrell criticized “Russia’s shameful choice to weaponize food.”

While the EU and UN, along with the UK, U.S., and other countries, scramble to find ways to get grain stores out of Ukraine and into the hands of those in need, there seems to be no clear-cut solution.

On Monday, European Union foreign ministers met to discuss the situation. They are willing to support a UN-backed deal that would support Ukraine’s reopening ports to the Black Sea. In return, it would facilitate Russian exports of food and fertilizer.

President Joe Biden has offered support by stating that the U.S. is willing to build temporary silos in Poland and other Ukrainian border countries and that train shipments could fill the storehouses.

However, this plan has serious snags. The first issue concerns the logistics of safely accessing and shipping the grain. Backed-up railway systems also hinder the execution of such a plan.

As far as demining Black Sea ports to open them up for shipments, even if Ukraine considered the option, it would take months to disconnect the landmines already in place.

There are safe corridor lanes through the Black Sea, but that does not address how to safely load grain freight onto awaiting ships without tripping land mines.

According to Bloomberg, officials are pessimistic about any agreements between Russia and Ukraine. The primary reason is Ukraine’s distrust in Russia to honor any agreements made, for Russia has expressly stipulated that sanctions be lifted as part of any deal.    

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