Ukraine, one of the largest granaries in the world, has been unable to export cereals for months at the rate it did before the war and the situation keeps the European Union on high alert, whose High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, has accused this Monday to the regime of Vladimir Putin to use hunger “as a weapon” against the rest of the world. “This is a true war crime,” denounced the head of European diplomacy.
The bolt around the country caused by the Russian invasion contributes to the formation of a food storm on the horizon with unpredictable effects in other latitudes and with the capacity to return to European territory intensified like a boomerang: the layers of this storm range from possible famines in the countries of the global south to social unrest over the price of bread and the consequent waves of migration or even conflicts in the medium term.
“It is inconceivable, it cannot be imagined that millions of tons of wheat continue to be blocked in Ukraine while people in the rest of the world suffer from hunger,” added Borrell during an appearance just before a meeting of EU foreign ministers. in Luxembourg.
The Russian invasion has caused nearly 20 million tons to remain in the country’s silos and ports, blocked and unable to travel abroad through the Black Sea, the traditional route, the fastest and most immediate, to the food markets. global. And with this summer’s harvest just around the corner, the EU fears that in the coming months there will no longer be room to store the new harvest or that even Ukrainian farmers will decide to stop planting the land due to lack of economic prospects.
Until Russia planted its boots in Ukraine, this country represented 10% of the world market for wheat, 13% for barley, 15% for corn, in addition to producing more than 50% of the world’s sunflower oil, according to data from the European Commission.
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In recent weeks, Brussels has considered all kinds of solutions to reopen the commercial floodgates of Ukrainian grain, including the launch of a naval mission to escort the passage of bulk carriers from Ukraine through a Black Sea strewn with mines and closely watched by the Russian Navy. The community block trusts for the moment that the solution will come with the endorsement of the United Nations and the help of Turkey, a key regional actor to cross the Bosphorus passage.
But the situation, at the moment, poses a strategic blockade typical of the prisoner’s dilemma: Russia would agree to open a route for the passage of grain in the Black Sea as long as Ukraine agrees to demine the ports; but it is difficult for kyiv to accept taking this step, as it fears that Russia will take the opportunity to penetrate with its warships to the coastal territories of the country that it does not yet dominate.
The food crisis, moreover, has become the center of a battle of narratives between Russia and the Twenty-seven, which the EU views with concern: some developing countries, affected by the scarcity of cereals and the blow of prices, They have taken the Russian narrative at face value, according to which the EU sanctions are the origin of the crisis and the lock on the flow of food. “Russia is blocking the Ukrainian ports, not us,” Borrell replied after the meeting. “Russia is destroying ports and food warehouses and transportation infrastructure, not us.”
Catherine Colonna, foreign minister of France, the country that holds the presidency of the European Council this semester, spoke along the same lines before the meeting with her counterparts. She has assured that France supports the “efforts” of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, who leads the diplomatic channels to open a transit route. And she has assured that it would be “useful” for the agreement to be signed with a UN Security Council resolution. “There are too many risks in leaving Ukrainian grain locked up. This is dangerous not only for the Middle East region, but also for the stability of the world in general”, Colonna has settled. “Russia must stop playing with world hunger.”
The food crisis and the search for ways to export the grain have been two of the burning issues on the table of the 27 ministers this Monday. The meeting has also served as a warm-up for the European summit next Thursday and Friday, the last in which the heads of state and government will meet before the summer break, and in which the long-awaited ―and divisive ― Debate on granting Ukraine status as a candidate country for the EU, after the European Commission recommended last Friday to take the step, albeit with nuances and conditions.
The French minister has assured that Paris also supports this position, and extends it to Moldova, which also received the endorsement of the Community Executive last Friday. “The Commission’s opinion considers that Ukraine and Moldova, based on the progress made by them and accompanied by a future roadmap, can be recognized as candidates. It is also France’s position”, she assured. “It is a political and strategic imperative, but also a moral one.”
For his part, Borrell did not want to give any clues about this debate: there are a good handful of countries against the candidacy (such as Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands or Portugal) and several skeptical voices, such as Austria. “The leaders will have to discuss it”, the High Representative has cleared. “I can’t anticipate the results, but I haven’t heard anyone oppose it.”