Be ready for severe food crisis, Zelensky warns world

Published June 12, 2022
PRESIDENT Volodymyr Zelensky and European Commission chief Ursula von der Layen meet in Kyiv.—Reuters
PRESIDENT Volodymyr Zelensky and European Commission chief Ursula von der Layen meet in Kyiv.—Reuters

SINGAPORE: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday urged international pressure to end a Russian naval blockade of Black Sea ports that has choked off his country’s grain exports, threatening a global food crisis.

Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine was the world’s top producer of sunflower oil and a major wheat exporter, but millions of tonnes of grain exports remain trapped due to the blockade.

The United Nations and some countries are pushing for a maritime corridor to be opened up to allow exports to resume.

“The world will face an acute and severe food crisis and famine, in many countries of Asia and Africa,” Zelensky said in a video address to the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore.

“The shortage of foodstuffs will inexorably lead to political chaos, which can result in the (collapse) of many governments and the ousting of many politicians,” he told delegates, including Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and China’s defence minister.

Seeks end to Russian naval blockade for resuming grain exports; expresses confidence Ukraine will prevail in war

“This looming threat is plain to see by just looking at the skyrocketing prices of basic products in the world markets and in certain countries. This is the direct consequence of the acts of the Russian state.”

Zelensky urged the international community to “restore the full might of the international law” that existed before the February 24 invasion.

Kyiv is in discussion with the UN, Turkey and other countries to open a way to allow the grain exports, and Zelensky said the talks are focused on the “format” of the corridor.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart held talks this week in Ankara on securing safe passage for Ukrainian grain exports, but the discussions made little headway.

Zelensky said Ukraine was currently exporting more than two million tonnes of grain a month via rail but this was not enough.

He accused Russia of seeking to push up grain prices higher, adding it had done the same with energy.

The United Nations said on Friday up to 19 million more people in the world could face chronic hunger in the next year because of reduced wheat and other food exports.

Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister said on Saturday up to 300,000 tonnes of grain may have been stored in warehouses in the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv that Kyiv says were destroyed by Russian shelling last weekend.

Battle for Sievierodonetsk

Zelensky said that Ukraine would prevail in its war with Russia, now focused on an artillery slugging match over an eastern Ukrainian city.

Russian forces have been trying to seize Sievierodonetsk in their advance in the east, turning it into one of the bloodiest battles so far in the four-month-old conflict.

Neither side has secured a knock-out blow in weeks of fighting that has pulverised chunks of the city.

Ukraine has appealed for swifter deliveries of heavy weapons from the West to turn the tide of the war with Russian forces — which it says have at least 10 times more artillery pieces than Ukrainian forces. Yet even when outgunned, Ukraine’s army has proved more resilient than expected in early phases of fighting.

“We are definitely going to prevail in this war that Russia has started,” Zelensky told the Singapore conference. “It is on the battlefields in Ukraine that the future rules of this world are being decided.”

After Russia was forced to scale back its more sweeping campaign goals when it launched the invasion on Feb 24, Moscow has turned to expanding control in the east, where pro-Russian separatists had already held a swathe of territory since 2014.

The eastern region known as the Donbas includes the provinces of Luhansk, where Sievierodonetsk lies, and Donetsk.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said a verdict on a captured South Korean “mercenary” was being prepared, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

Turkey has tried to secure a deal so Ukraine can resume shipments from its Black Sea ports, which accounted for 98 per cent of its cereal and oilseed exports before the war. But Moscow says Kyiv must clear the ports of mines and Ukraine says it needs security guarantees so it is not left exposed.

The battle for Sievierodonetsk and its destruction recall weeks of bombardment of the southern port city of Mariupol. It was reduced to ruins before Russian forces took control of the city last month, with the last Ukrainian defenders surrendering from their redoubt in the Azovstal steel plant.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2022

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