On 21 June, the Russian Embassy in Colombo described as “myths” the facts that;

The invasion of Ukraine has endangered the world’s food supply;

Russia is occupying Ukrainian land and shelling Ukraine’s farmland;

Russia is intentionally destroying Ukrainian agriculture;

Russia is blocking grain supplies via the Black Sea;

Russia is using energy supplies for political purposes.

Anyone reading international media other than outlets backed by Russian propaganda is aware that the above five elements have been reported and analysed in depth by the world’s most senior journalists and experts.

Russia’s attempts to de-link the spike in grain prices and its invasion of Ukraine are nothing more than disinformation efforts. Yet, the causal link between the invasion of Ukraine, a major grain producer, and food commodities prices, is plain to see. While the below graph speaks for itself, further context can help us in refining our understanding of the consequences of this war of aggression.

Ukraine, one of the most important “breadbaskets” of the planet

Ukraine produces 12 per cent of the world’s wheat, 15 per cent of its corn and 50 per cent of its sunflower oil. It is the main exporter of agricultural goods for countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Ukraine alone provides Sri Lanka with more than half of its imported soybeans, sunflower oil and seeds, and peas, according to the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka.

As confirmed by Ukrainian President Zelensky, Putin’s troops shell, mine and occupy arable land of Ukraine, attack farm equipment, warehouses, markets, roads, bridges in Ukraine and block Ukraine’s ports, preventing the export of millions of tons of grain to global markets. The Russian invasion has also brought cereal shipments through the Black Sea to a halt: according to a recent UN World Food Program (WFP) report, more than 90 ships are affected today. As a result, an estimated 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize are blocked – 23% and 43 % of their expected exports in 2021/22. David Beasley, the head of WFP, has been clear that “millions of people around the world will die because these ports are being blocked”, pleading with President Putin that “if you have any heart at all for the rest of the world, regardless of how you feel about Ukraine, you need to open up those ports.” Ukraine’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Vysotskyi explained that if ports remain blocked, Ukraine will export just 2 million tonnes of grains per month, a third of pre-war levels.

The invasion of Ukraine has also substantially elevated the risk of disruptions in the global fertilizer trade. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of fertilizers. Last February, Russia banned the export of ammonium nitrate, and in March, it told fertilizer producers to slow their exports in retaliation to Western sanctions.

Russia’s conscious political choice is to ‘weaponise’ these exports and use them as a tool for blackmail against anyone that opposes its aggression. In case of any lingering doubt, take it from Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of State-controlled RT (formerly Russia Today), who said last week: “once hunger sets in, this will bring them to their senses: this is when they will lift sanctions and will be friends with us because they will understand there is no way around it”.

The result: an increased spike in price

As a result, food prices, which were already affected by the pandemic and climate change, have never been as high as today in real terms. It has major consequences for many low and middle-income countries and for the WFP. Many experts warn that the worst is yet to come if Ukrainian exports remain blocked until the next harvest. Meanwhile, several countries have introduced unilateral restrictions on their own agricultural exports, while others are seeking to build up stocks, exacerbating the problems on world markets. Because of this, the price of rice, the most consumed staple in the world, which up to now had low prices, could increase significantly. The UN has warned for “a food catastrophe of global proportions in 2023”. 

EU sanctions have never targeted Russian agricultural and fertiliser exports

To avoid a global food calamity, the top priority remains to stop the war and get Russian troops out of Ukraine. This is the aim of the EU’s massive support to Ukraine and of the restrictive measures, we are applying with our allies against Putin’s regime. However, we have never targeted Russian agricultural and fertilizer exports. EU sanctions do not prohibit Russia to export any agricultural goods, payment for such Russian exports or the provision of seeds, provided that sanctioned individuals or entities are not involved. Nor do EU sanctions have any extraterritorial application, i.e. they do not create obligations for non-EU operators, unless their business is conducted at least partly within the EU. Moreover, the port embargo specifically has full exemptions on agricultural goods. In that regard, the propaganda spread by the Russian Embassy to Sri Lanka is part of a pernicious battle of narratives.

Russia propaganda and the battle of narratives

The Russian propaganda’s claims that the EU is responsible for the food crisis are evidences of the cynicism displayed when Russia bombed Ukraine’s second largest grain silo in Mykolaiv, just a couple of days after the African Union pleaded for alleviating the current food difficulties with President Putin in Sochi.

While Russia’s disinformation efforts have been well-documented by initiatives such as https://euvsdisinfo.eu/ukraine/, it is important to take a step back and recognise this as the latest chapter in Russia’s long-running attempts at rewriting history and shifting responsibility for its actions. By spreading blatant lies and distortions of truth through its network of embassies and arms-length propaganda outlets, Russia is attempting to distract the world from facing up to a simple yet heart-breaking reality – the impending food crisis is a
man-made catastrophe. The only sustainable way out is ending the war in Ukraine, a war for which Russia is solely responsible.

The EU is working with the UN and partners to help with food security

In full cooperation with the UN, the EU is fully using its network of Ambassadors to make sure that food supply is not impacted by technical issues related to payments channels or over compliance. Working with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WFP, we are looking at ways to keep markets open, support the multilateral food system and avoid food price speculation.

We are also acting within the G7, the G20, the World Bank and the IMF, to increase their commitment to the countries most in need via emergency financial support, additional debt relief, the emission of new Special Drawing Rights and other instruments. We fully support the efforts in that direction by the UN Secretary General within the Global Crisis Response Group.

We must help Ukraine to maintain its economic activity and keep producing agricultural products. This aid must cover seeds, fertilizers and export routes if the ports remain blocked. Increasing economic help to Ukraine is also essential to avoid a major humanitarian crisis in Ukraine itself and a mass exodus of its population. 

Above all, we remain committed to a diplomatic solution to the conflict and will continue pursuing any available means to prevent its devastating consequences, both in Ukraine as well as countries vulnerable to food scarcity such as Sri Lanka. In these difficult times, we must work together to prevent any further suffering, especially when it is entirely man-made and thus preventable.

We call on Russian representatives to stop this campaign of deception and instead meaningfully address the harm caused by the senseless war before too late. Responsibility for the ongoing bloodshed and any further lives lost due to food shortages lies squarely on their shoulders.

Signed by Eric Lavertu, Ambassador of France, Rita Mannella, Ambassador of Italy, Tanja Gonggrijp, Ambassador of the Netherlands, Holger Seubert, Ambassador of Germany, Victor Chiujdea, Ambassador of Romania, Denis Chaibi, EU Ambassador