Global Food Crisis Looms as Russia Blockades the Black Sea
May 27, 2022
A U.S. INTELLIGENCE REPORT this week, disclosed by The Washington Post, confirms that Russia is prepared to shut off all shipping lanes into and out of the Black Sea, which is crucial for countries — especially in the Middle East and Africa — that rely on Ukrainian grain. Egypt, for example, gets between 75% and 85% of its wheat supply from Ukraine and Russia.
THE IMPACT COULD BE EVEN MORE WIDESPREAD, as prices surge worldwide and the Russian military bombs Ukrainian grain storage facilities. Nearly 30 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukrainian ports that have been blockaded by Russian forces. Shipping grain in trucks and trains wouldn’t be nearly as effective as naval shipments.
UP TO 50 MILLION PEOPLE will face hunger in the coming months, experts believe, unless the naval blockade is lifted. This has prompted U.S. hawks to suggest that naval escorts could become an option.
MILITARY EXPERTS told Congress this week that at some point, the U.S. Navy could get involved in an effort to guarantee that exports from Ukraine can resume. The Wall Street Journal editorial page suggested this week that the U.S. could declare a humanitarian crisis and send warships to the region.
UKRAINE IS THE WORLD’S largest exporter of sunflower oil, the fourth largest exporter of corn, and the fifth largest exporter of wheat. Western officials have accused Moscow of using food as a form of blackmail, as Russia’s navy effectively controls all traffic in the northern third of the Black Sea, according to U.S. intelligence assessments.
MUCH OF LAST YEAR’S GRAIN is stuck in storage facilities, since Ukrainian officials lack port facilities. Technically, Turkey controls access to the Black Sea under terms of the 1936 Montreaux Convention, but Russia effectively controls most of the region.
IN NORMAL TIMES, Black Sea ports account for 90% of Ukraine’s grain and oilseed exports, so food could become an increasing crisis. The prospect of soaring prices has worried affluent European countries like France, Italy and Germany, which are urging Ukraine — in private — to seek a truce.
IS A TRUCE IMMINENT? It’s doubtful any time soon, but the New York Times reports this morning that there’s growing pressure on President Volodymyr Zelensky to accept a premise that could result in the loss of some Ukrainian territory. Henry Kissinger, 99, has advocated that and many Western leaders agree — in private.
BUT IT’S UNLIKELY that either Zelensky or Putin are ready for peace talks to end a war that neither country can conclusively win. Eventually the enormous losses of troops and weapons on both sides will lead to negotiations — as fears grow over worsening global food inflation and hunger.
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