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Brief Relief In The Ongoing Food Crisis

For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, a ship carrying grain left port from the port of Odessa.

(Dobra Kobra/Shutterstock)

For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, a ship carrying grain left port from the port of Odessa.

Throughout the conflict, Russia has placed a naval blockade on any ships that would attempt to transport goods to and from Ukraine. But, due to a deal negotiated between Moscow and Kiev last month with the help of Turkey and the United Nations, the cargo ship Razoni was packed with 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn and set off for the Lebanese port of Tripoli on Monday.


As the Razoni, which sails under the flag of Sierra Leone, makes its voyage from the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean, it will travel along a safe corridor monitored by the UN and Turkey and observed by the Russian navy, Oleksandr Kubrakov, the Ukrainian infrastructure minister, claimed in a Facebook post. Kubrakov also said that 16 other vessels loaded with grain were stuck in the port of Odessa, but that the Razoni’s secured departure represented “a colossal success for ensuring global food security.”

Ukrainian pilot ships will help the Razoni and future ships navigate the Black Sea’s safe corridor and avoid mines.

The Razoni will make a brief stop in Istanbul, where Russia and Ukraine agreed to the UN-backed deal last month, to be inspected by Turkish officials before carrying on to Tripoli. Turkey, a NATO ally, has come under pressure from the West in recent years because of its decision to purchase Russian missile systems, tighten economic ties with Moscow, and stall recent efforts to expand NATO by giving Finland and Sweden membership.

The deal struck in Istanbul last month allows for commercial food export activities to recommence from Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny. The reopening of these ports for commercial food products was delayed a month, however, because Russia conducted a missile strike on the port of Odessa shortly after the agreement was struck. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky argued the attack was proof that Russia was incapable of following through on this agreement and others like it.

But as the food supply situation has grown more dire, the U.N. has created a joint coordination center based out of Istanbul to ensure the signatories respect the deal. When the center launched last Wednesday, U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Martin Griffiths said he was “hopeful that their swift collective action will translate quickly and directly into much-needed relief for the most vulnerable food insecure people around the world.”


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that the center will bring, “much-needed stability and relief to global food security especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts,” as evidenced by its success with the Razoni.

But Ukraine, which has garnered the nickname as “the breadbasket of Europe,” will need to be exporting much, much more than 26,000 tons of grain if the global food supply is going to avoid further calamity. Ukraine is the fifth-largest producer of wheat in the world and is responsible for 45 million tons of wheat to the global supply every year. Turning that tap off for five months will surely carry long term ramifications—whether it is further increased prices for food essentials or outright famine.

Surely, these effects will be felt hardest in the global south. Since the outbreak of the conflict, analysts have noted the extreme hazard Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has placed on food supply prospects for many countries in the global south—something these countries are well aware of. Nevertheless, the global south has been reticent to criticize or alienate Russia for invading its neighbor and throwing more insecurity into the global food supply because of Russia’s control over another essential resource: oil.

Back in early March, my colleague John Hirschauer wrote about “The Looming Food Crisis”:

Like most agricultural commodities, the price of wheat tends to move with the price of oil. The continued rise of crude oil prices, combined with the loss of Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports, will accelerate the rise in global wheat prices. That’s consequential domestically—paying $5.50 for a loaf of bread is no small thing—but abroad, it could be lethal. Wheat is responsible for some 20 percent of the world’s caloric intake. Nigeria, where 40 percent of people live below the global poverty line, is one of the world’s ten leading importers of wheat. What happens when they can’t afford to import grain?

Paired with the fact that Russia is the world’s largest producer of wheat, it's no mystery why the global south has not taken a hardline stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the chagrin of Western powers that have been pressuring to do so: When the choice is between starvation or silence on a war a continent away, it's in that country’s interest to choose the latter.


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