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Yes, The War Has Caused A Major Food Crisis — But Russia Can't Fix It Alone

For many countries, the global food crisis has already begun. As enough food to feed the world for several weeks remains trapped in Ukraine, Russia and Turkey met to discuss the problem. But they cannot solve it alone, says independent Russian media Kommersant.

Photo of storks in a field during harvesting in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine

A field in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine

Ivan Yakunin

MOSCOW — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Ankara to talk to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu this week to discuss Ukrainian grain. Lavrov tried to strike an optimistic tone: "Our military is in contact with Turkish friends to discuss the details of these processes, these initiatives. There have never been any obstacles from our side to solve this problem... If the position of authorities in Kyiv has matured, we will only be happy to cooperate."

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Turkey has reported that the Ukrainian side is ready to clear mines from its harbors, which the Russians say has prevented exports, Russian state news agency Ria Novostireported.

However, so far the negotiation process is taking place without Ukraine itself, and stolen grain is being taken out of the country through Crimea and the occupied territories.

A few weeks' worth of food

Kommersantwrites that Moscow is ready to grant safe passage to Ukrainian vessels with grain. At least, that's what Russia's permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said. The head of the organization, António Guterres, also admitted that progress had been made in the negotiations to lift the blockade of six Ukrainian ports, but it was still too early to talk about a solution to the situation. The export of about 20 million tons of grain may be the key to overcoming the global food crisis that European authorities have been talking about for months.

In the south of Ukraine, there are 22 million tons of wheat, corn, and other important crops in the territories not under Kyiv's control. To put that in context: this volume is enough to feed the entire planet for several weeks.

The Ukrainians insist that the ports of Kherson, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and others have been blocked by Russian troops, which prevent them from fulfilling export contracts. Moscow responded to this accusation three times. First, the Defense Ministry said that it was not safe to give the ships the green light because they would allegedly be shelled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Then Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that Russia was not preventing anything.

Can the food crisis be stopped?

Finally, Vasily Nebenzya, permanent representative to the UN, assured that Moscow is ready to provide safe passage for merchant ships, but first Kyiv must clear the ports of mines. Of course, everything is not clear here: firstly, the Ukrainian side has not yet confirmed the receipt of guarantees. Secondly, Turkish diplomats involved in the negotiations told the media that Moscow expects that no new weapons from the allies will be brought to Ukraine under the guise of merchant ships. But even if this conflict is resolved safely, the food crisis cannot be stopped, believes Andrei Sizov, director of the Sovekon analytical center.

"There are other components, such as a significant deterioration in the prospects for a new crop in 2022 in the world. South America has been seriously burned; winter wheat in the U.S. is now in bad shape. For about the last month or so, the views on the new crop in France, which is a major producer and exporter of grain in the EU, have deteriorated badly. Looking ahead, there are also many questions about the Ukrainian harvest in 2023, because sowing of winter wheat, which Ukraine produces mostly, should start in a few months, Sizov believes.

Photo of grain burning near \u200bdestroyed silos in Sivers'k, Ukraine

Destroyed grain silos in Sivers'k, Ukraine

Alex Chan/SOPA

The effects of sanctions

Another question is about Russian wheat, which also takes a large share of the international market. Dmitry Peskov insisted that the impending crisis is not caused by the blockade of Ukrainian ports, but by unprecedented sanctions against Moscow. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken responded that food was not part of any sanctions package, and no one had banned Russia from trading grain. Then Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov intervened and said that wheat is really not under sanctions, which is not the case with Russian merchant ships. They cannot be insured or allowed into ports, so trade has de facto stopped.

This is not the only consequence, says Dmitry Bulatov, president of the National Union of Food Exporters. "Sanctions are naturally affecting the future Russian harvest. Reduced supplies of seeds, plant protection products, and spare parts for imported agricultural machinery will affect its scale. We will definitely provide for ourselves, but we may export less than expected. So it is groundless to say that sanctions do not affect the agriculture sector, they do, and very much so," said Bulatov.

World Bank warnings

As a result, the World Bank warned that food prices would increase by almost 23% this year. And the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the food crisis has already begun in some countries. David Beasley, director of the UN World Food Program, confirms this. According to him, the number of hungry people around the world was 270 million in February and 320 million in May, and there is no way out of this situation.

"If before the war we said that a world food crisis was beginning, now the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II is upon us. As a result, we are forced to take food away from the hungry and give it to the starving," says Beasley. "What did you think would happen if you took a nation that feeds 400 million people and isolated it? Add rising fuel prices, food prices, and delivery prices — it's devastating. And it won't just affect the poor and the poorest — it will affect everyone. Now the authorities of different countries have begun to understand that we have problems. And no solutions are in sight."

Kommersant's sources are sure that only lower grain prices can smooth the consequences of the food crisis. These, in turn, depend on the volume of supply. Russia and Ukraine play the key role here: together they provide the market with about a third of the grain and 67% of sunflower. However, as long as both countries are engaged in a military conflict, observers are not optimistic.

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