Here’s How To Stop Putin And Avoid A Global Food Crisis | Food

The war in Ukraine has shown how international efforts to counter Russia are severely hampered by an inconvenient reality: isolating the Kremlin comes at a cost in the form of huge risks to global food security.

The sanctions regime against Russia has disrupted the food supply chain. With the greatest conflict raging in Europe since World War II – and likely to continue for at least several more months – there is an urgent need to minimize its effects on the planet’s nutritional needs.

Moscow is trying to leverage this mounting crisis as a way to evade economic pressures designed to force the country to end its attack on Ukraine, which, along with Russia, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of grains and edible oils.

In response, Western decision-makers must formulate policies that can achieve both imperatives: countering Russian aggression and preventing a global food crisis. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible.

Russian fertilizers — vital to agricultural activities in various parts of the world — could be key.

Of course, there has been a Turkey-brokered deal between Russia and Ukraine since the end of July to enable grain shipments through the Black Sea. The agreement calls on both Moscow and Kiev not to attack ships carrying much-needed grain supplies from the war zone. However, as Russia tries to consolidate its hold on eastern and southern Ukraine and the western-backed government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev is determined to force the invaders’ armies to withdraw from the occupied territories, the ongoing access to one of the world’s granaries danger.

The Russian war in Ukraine has exacerbated a pre-existing situation in which the global economy was hit by other conflicts, climate change, rising energy costs and, most importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic. High energy prices increased fertilizer costs and the war and sanctions put the supply chain at risk.

To prevent a major global conflict while also preventing Russia from destroying Ukraine’s sovereignty, the United States and its allies and partners have relied heavily on economic and financial warfare to force Moscow to bow.

However, the Kremlin has responded by arming its own grain supply and that of Ukraine. While Russia may not meet its military goals and face mounting financial stress, it could spread that pain around the world. Food shortages in the developing world and the resulting political instability in the Middle East and North Africa could push millions of migrants to make the perilous journey to Europe, just as they did during the Arab Spring and the wars in Iraq and Syria. That, in turn, could destabilize Europe politically, with the far right channeling anti-immigrant sentiment to challenge mainstream parties.

Like energy, food is a loaded gun held to the head of the West, according to the Kremlin. But as with oil and gas, a deft balancing act can help the international community maintain pressure on Moscow without leading to malnutrition, famine, mass migration and humanitarian disaster.

Europe’s reliance on Russia’s natural gas supplies has seen the continent gradually wean itself from that addiction in recent months, giving the Kremlin the chance to threaten to cut energy exports unless sanctions are lifted.

While finding alternative energy sources is a long-term effort, it may be relatively easier to source more grain from other food-producing countries to try and reduce Russia’s influence. What is crucial for this is the continued flow of Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian fertilizers to increase crop yields around the world.

Russia, a major fertilizer exporter, accounts for 23 percent of the world’s ammonia, 21 percent of potassium, 14 percent of urea and 10 percent of phosphate. These chemicals have the potential to increase international grain production; as much as 100 million tons of wheat or 400 million tons of maize per year, based on calculations that take into account global food consumption and the amount that fertilizers contribute to it.

Although fertilizers are not officially banned, sanctions against people associated with Russian fertilizer companies, hurdles in eliminating payments and transportation-related obstacles are obstacles in the path of this strategy.

Adjusting the highly targeted sanctions regime against Russia to make fertilizer flow better won’t help Moscow much. Russia’s income from fertilizer exports in 2021 was about $12.5 billion. That’s just a change from the Kremlin’s projected revenue from hydrocarbon exports this year: about $337 billion. The world, on the other hand, will benefit greatly if farmers around the world can access these fertilizers, produce food, and thereby also remove one weapon from the Kremlin’s armory.

Strategy and policy are about trade-offs. The cost of countering an adversary is not creating serious crises far from the battlefield. We must prevent huge food insecurity from developing all over the world. If the world is united in putting pressure on Russian oil and gas exports, the sand in Moscow’s hourglass will run out faster and the end of Ukraine’s tragedy will draw closer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

Leave a Comment