Russia Must Stop Weaponizing Food

By U.S. Ambassador George P. Kent

The opinion article was published in Postimees on August 10, 2023.

Russia has dealt another blow to the world’s most vulnerable.  Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) and targeting of Ukrainian grain intended for global markets will place countless lives at risk.  Russia is weaponizing food at the expense of people around the world.  The world needs Ukrainian grain. Russia must stop these callous acts.

The BSGI is a year-old deal brokered by the United Nations and Türkiye to ensure the flow of grain and other food commodities from Ukraine’s ports.  The BSGI enabled the shipment of nearly 33 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain and foodstuffs including the equivalent of 18 billion loaves of bread.  It contributed to stabilizing and lowering food prices by nearly 20 percent, after prices spiked following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

On July 17, 2023, Russia withdrew from the BSGI, and grain prices initially rose sharply as a result.  Russia did not stop its actions with withdrawal.  It targeted attacks on grain silos and other port infrastructure in Ukraine.  It threatened the cargo ships of third countries if they attempted to load grain from Ukrainian ports. It took advantage of higher prices for its own exports while keeping Ukrainian grain off the market.

Russia is taking these actions at a time when the world is experiencing an alarming rise in food insecurity.  Conflict, insecurity, and the effects of climate change are exacerbating food insecurity for millions of people around the world. Yet while it thwarts shipments from Ukraine, Russia continues to sell record amounts, including grain stolen from Ukrainian silos and fields.  

Despite what Russia’s misinformation might tell you, the United States has not imposed sanctions on the export of Russian agricultural commodities.  This is because of our commitment to global food security.  The United States will continue to support efforts to get Ukrainian grain to the markets that desperately need it. We are doing that by providing financial support and supplies for Ukrainian farmers such as seeds and fertilizer, as well as help with crop storage and processing needs. More broadly, we will continue to lead and rally the international community to address global food insecurity. 

Estonia is a valued partner in responding to humanitarian needs globally and calling out Russia’s weaponization of food.  Estonia continues to punch above its weight, providing support to the World Food Program to help mitigate food shortages in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria. We should all applaud Estonia’s leaders for championing creative solutions to get Ukrainian grain where it’s needed the most, into the hands of families and children struggling with poverty and hunger.   

Russia must permit the shipment of life-sustaining grain that feeds millions around the world.  It must stop targeting stored grain and ports and stealing Ukrainian grain.  It must stop threatening ships of non-combatant countries.  It must stop wreaking death and destruction.  Russia must end this war.