Ukraine war: Food is the Kremlin's 'arsenal of terror'

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European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has called out Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to starve North African and Middle Eastern countries. With Russia’s supremacy on the Black Sea, Putin has ordered Russian military vessels to blockade Ukraine’s exports in seaports with the consequence of threatening to spark a global food security crisis around the world. In April, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)’s Executive Director David Beasley warned the Putin-led blockade could affect up to 276 million people and result in “famine, the destabilisation of nations as well as mass migration by necessity”. Mr Beasley has since been calling for a “political solution” to open Black Sea ports.

For President Von der Leyen, Putin is weaponizing food scarcity to starve hundreds of millions and destabilise food security around the world.

Speaking to the European Parliament, she said: “This is a cold, callous, and calculated siege by Putin on some of the most vulnerable countries and people in the world. Food has become part of the Kremlin’s arsenal of terror.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine reverberates around the world. This year alone, some 275 million people are likely to be at least at the risk of food insecurity across the world.”

To address the issue, President Von der Leyen has laid out four areas of action the EU will focus on.

She said: “The first is keeping the markets open so that trade can continue to flow. The European Union keeps its food exports going, and so should everyone else. Second area: this is solidarity and support to partners. This is about short-term support to the countries most at risk.

“For example, we are now investing an additional €225million to address the short and medium-term needs of the Southern Neighbour partners”, Ms Von der Leyen added. 

“And I will be in Egypt next week to discuss with President El-Sisi how best we can target our support to the region. This is a big, big task for all of us.

“The third area is our response in investing in making local production more sustainable and resilient. For this, the EU budget has already earmarked €3billion to invest in agriculture and nutrition, water and sanitation programmes.”

President Von der Leyen continued: “But it is clear that we need to do more. And we will need to move faster.

“Finally, let me emphasise that we are not doing this alone. We are working closely with the United Nations and the G7 presidency. That has made this a key theme of the upcoming leader’s meeting.”

Putin’s war on Ukraine will be at the top of the agenda at the G7 summit scheduled to be held from 26 to 28 June in Germany. In a joint statement, the seven leaders stressed they “want to make abundantly clear that we will not sit whilst countries flagrantly disregard the international rulebook, on which we all depend for peace, prosperity, security, and stability.”

In an impassionate plea at the United Nations Security Council, WFP’s Director David Beasley renewed calls to open Black Sea ports and urged world leaders to take immediate action amid the impending threat that could lead close to 300 million people to starvation.

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“Truly, failure to open those ports in Odesa region will be a declaration of war on global food security. And it will result in famine and destabilisation and mass migration around the world”, Mr Bealsey warned.

He added: “When a mother has to choose between freezing her child to death or starving her child to death, something’s wrong.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the onus was on Ukraine to solve the grain shipments problem by clearing mines from its Black Sea ports and that Russia needed to take no action because it had already made the necessary commitments.

Lavrov said: “We state daily that we’re ready to guarantee the safety of vessels leaving Ukrainian ports and heading for (Turkish waters), we’re ready to do that in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues.”

Ukraine’s foreign ministry, however, dismissed as “empty words” Lavrov’s assurances that Moscow will not use the situation to its advantage if Kyiv allows grain shipments to leave safely via the Black Sea.

Ukraine has said it needs “effective security guarantees” before it can start shipments, voicing concerns that Moscow could use the potential corridor to move on its southern port of Odesa.

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