starve the world’s poor by blocking grain exports from Ukraine

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You might think you’ve seen all the horrors of Russia’s Ukraine war crimes kit (except weapons of mass destruction).

You didn’t.

Moscow blocks (or destroys) Ukrainian port cities on the Sea of ​​Azov and the Black Sea and prevents them from exporting grain. This has created a global food crisis.

With a level of cynicism that makes Machiavelli angelic, Vladimir Putin attempts to weaponize a Moscow-made food disaster. He is blackmailing the West into dropping sanctions – or conceding Russian rule over all Ukrainian ports, including Odessa – in exchange for Russia ending the blockade.

Neither NATO members nor the United Nations should allow Putin to profit from the hunger of the world’s poor who depend on Ukrainian grain exports. The White House needs to focus on breaking Putin’s blockade – now.

READ MORE: Sweden and Finland join NATO because Europe cannot remain neutral in the face of Putin’s war.

On Monday, during a meeting of the UN Security Council, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, criticized Russia for using the blockade as “a stealth missile against developing countries”. This week, Russian missiles deliberately destroyed Ukraine’s second largest grain storage facility in the city of Mykolaiv, while Russian bombs and mines prevent farmers from sowing and harvesting.

“It drives up food prices, drives people into poverty and destabilizes entire regions,” Michel said. The fallout affects both Africa and the Middle East, which are heavily dependent on Ukrainian wheat. Efforts by UN Secretary General António Guterres to arbitrate the crisis with Moscow came to nothing.

It is not possible for Ukraine to export its grain by rail or by road; trains and trucks can only transport a small percentage of this bulk carriers can carry.

“Russia is solely responsible for this impending food crisis,” Michel said. When the Moscow ambassador to the UN left the meeting of the Security Council, Michael tweeted“Perhaps it is easier not to listen to the truth, dear Ambassador [Vasily] Nebenzia.

So what’s Putin’s game in trying to starve much of the world?

For starters, Putin is trying to put the blame on the food crisis on Ukraine, and on Western sanctions. Absurdity.

If Russia had not launched its unprovoked attack on Ukraine and closed the Ukrainian coast with its warships, Kyiv’s exports would have sunk. Moreover, Russia’s grain exports – also essential to global supplies – are unsanctioned and can still exit Russia’s Baltic and Pacific ports.

The Kremlin is also using the blockade to try to blackmail the West into accepting its control over Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

Russia has already seized two Ukrainian ports on the Sea of ​​Azov: Mariupol, which it razed, and Berdiansk. The Kremlin’s key strategic objective now – so far unsuccessful – is to seize Ukraine’s largest port, Odessa, on the Black Sea.

Playing the role of savior (of the crisis he created), Putin proposed that Ukraine hand over its grain to the Russians, who will export it from occupied Mariupol. (Russian forces have already stolen 500,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat from the territories they occupy and shipped it out of Russian-held Crimea.)

Obviously, rewarding the thief for marketing stolen goods is pointless.

Putin made an even more outrageous proposal. If Ukraine demines its coast – removing a key defense from its coastline – Russian naval forces will allow grain exports to leave Odessa.

In other words, Putin says the world should recognize Russian control of the Black Sea, which seriously violates international law and threatens Ukraine’s economic survival.

“While Russian warships in the Black Sea are loaded with missiles, it is very dangerous to open Ukrainian waters to them,” Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya told me. If Ukrainian mines are disabled, he said, “Russia might even use that as an excuse to land” on Ukrainian shores.

» READ MORE: Save Odessa to save the world from high food prices and hunger.

Kyslytsya said Ukraine would only clear its coast (after Russia removes its own mines) if Kyiv received security guarantees “from someone powerful” who would escort incoming and outgoing merchant ships to protect them from Russian attacks. This powerful country would also have to guarantee that Russian warships would not use the cleared channel to attack Odessa once the commercial ships left.

And – this is very important – the American and European allies should finally deliver the anti-ship missiles that Odessa needs to repel any Russian attack.

Which country is currently able to provide such naval escorts? Only Turkey.

A member of NATO, Turkey maintains reasonably good relations with Russia and Ukraine. It also has a long Black Sea coast and international legal control over who can enter the Black Sea in times of war (via the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles Strait).

Will Turkey take on the huge role of maritime escort and guarantor of Odessa’s security, with or without the other NATO members? Will Russia try to block or abuse the Turkish intervention?

Hurry up. “July is a red line in the south of the Odessa region,” Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian deputy from Odessa, told me over the phone. “The harvest starts in July and by the end of the month there will be a big problem for grain storage. Farmers have grain but they cannot sell it. If not stored, the grain will rot.

Putin must not be allowed to carry out his latest war crime. The time has come to break the Russian blockade of grain shipments from Odessa.

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