A global end run on Russia’s food weapon

Joint efforts by G-7 nations aim to free up Ukraine’s grain exports – and ensure freedom from hunger worldwide.

A worker in Romania oversees the unloading of Ukrainian cereals from a barge in the Black Sea port of Constanta, June 21.

Four months into Russia’s war, the campaign for Ukraine’s freedom has now been joined by two other campaigns: freedom for global food markets and freedom for an estimated 47 million people around the world who could go hungry as a result of the invasion.

On Monday, the leaders of the G-7 club of leading industrial powers pledged at a meeting in Germany to counter a Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s ports and the destruction of the country’s highly valued grain exports. A similar message was sent last week at a special “food summit” in Berlin and is expected at a NATO meeting this week.

Russia’s use of food disruption as a weapon of war – considered a war crime – has evoked a global response almost as intense as that against the war itself. Last year, Ukraine was the fourth-largest exporter of grain and seeds. But with Russian forces killing Ukrainian farmers, blowing up storage silos, and obstructing Black Sea ports, those exports have dwindled, raising fears of shortages for many of the world’s most vulnerable nations.

The G-7 countries – Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States plus the European Union – decided to coordinate their assistance to Ukraine agriculture and to dozens of countries facing acute food insecurity. The goal is not only humanitarian. Russia has described its food tactic as a “quiet but ominous” way to weaken world resistance to the war.

Since March, both Poland and Moldova have opened land routes for exports of Ukrainian wheat, barley, corn, and vegetable oil, lessening the crisis to a degree. So-called grain trains are now reaching safe ports. Still, Western countries may need a greater effort – akin to the 1961 Berlin airlift during the Cold War – to ensure more exports.

Ending Russia’s naval blockade by force has been ruled out by the U.S. Instead, both the United Nations and a few leaders of developing countries are beseeching Moscow to allow shipments out of Ukraine – to save Russia’s reputation among countries it has long courted.

The fight for Ukraine’s future is now a global struggle for free markets and freedom from hunger. The war is no longer just about a country’s self-determination. It is also about world self-sufficiency in food.

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