Russia has announced that it would be withdrawing from the Black Sea Grain Initiative. In July of last year, the UN reached an agreement to ease the movement of grain from Ukraine following Russia’s attacked on the country and stopped cargoes in the Black Sea.
In the immediate aftermath, grain prices rocketed and caused food insecurity in many people experiencing poverty as well as developing nations. Ukraine, along with Russia, is the largest exporter of sunflower and grain oil. About a third of African countries get half of their requirements for wheat from Ukraine.
About 33.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce were traded in the Black Sea initiative. The withdrawal of Russia has impacted the food supply to countries that require urgently for grain.
Russia is warning that “all ships in the Black Sea bound for Ukrainian ports will be considered potential military cargo” which means they’ll be attacked. It is not only countries dependent on imports that have suffered. Ukraine is also facing serious food insecurity.
What shocked the world was the string of targeted attacks launched by Russia against Ukraine’s infrastructure for agriculture following its withdrawal. Russia attacked Odesa, Chornomorsk and Mykolaiv ports, cities from which grains are typically exported, and formed part of the program.
As per the Ukrainian authorities, the attack destroyed 60,000 tonnes of grain and destroyed a significant portion of the infrastructure for food storage. Ukraine is currently producing around 40 percent less grain than it did before the war; huge farms are in the hands of a few people, and agriculture has stopped. Russia has laid mines in farms and is destroying stores and food stores.
The attacks bring back a painful memory for Ukrainians—”Holodomor”. This Ukrainian word for “hunger extermination” refers to the famine of 1932-33 in the country, then a part of Soviet Russia.
Joseph Stalin enforced collectivisation of agriculture in 1929, primarily focused on Ukraine. Lands and crops were seized and left nothing for the local population. There are numerous studies that suggest that four million Ukrainians were starving to death.
Holodomor is an eloquent illustration that illustrates the “food/starvation as a weapon” strategy used in war or conflicts. It’s as old as the conflicts we have witnessed. The US first rules for military conduct – the Lieber Code of 1863, that was ratified by president Abraham Lincoln, which is still the foundation for similar regulations — stated that they were “lawful to starve the hostile belligerent, armed or unarmed” to speed up surrender.
A former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reportedly said later, “Who controls the food supply, controls the people.” In World War II, Adolf Hitler’s “Hunger Plan” killed over four million Soviet people. Food was taken away by force to feed German troops and civilians.
In May of 2018, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2417 which was the first time that it condemned “starvation as a method of warfare” and outlined sanctions for it.
Are Russia making use of food products as weapons? There is increasing evidence that it’s, at the very least, in Ukraine. The fragile centralised global food supply system – where a handful of countries are the main producers of food, and many others rely on them – appears to be a prime target to increase strategic power.
In numerous UNSC meetings following the Russian invasion, the members debated on the targeted attacks of Russia by referring to “food as a weapon of war” within the context of the global security of food. In order to continue the grain deal, Russia demanded the lifting of sanctions on the Russian Agricultural Bank and the reopening of supply lines for exports of agricultural machinery and spare parts.
The world’s leaders have called the Russian withdrawal and bombings an attack on everyone who relies on the foodgrains that come from Ukraine. It could be the equivalent of food weapons that don’t only starves the local population, but also destroy the supply chain on a global scale.