Food Crisis Part 2: High food prices hit everyone, Putin follows suit of Marie Antoinette

Addressing the G7 leaders via a video call last Thursday, March 24, Ukraine’s president Zelenskyy mentioned the global food crisis only briefly in the middle of his speech. His major message was the call for steadily escalating sanctions on Russia every week that would, in the end, sever all trade and finance ties to Russia if it does not stop the invasion.

Zelenskyy appealed that G7 nations would become the guarantors of world peace, implying that the fifteen-member UN Security Council and the G20 nations are not up for the job.

Anthony Blinken’s approach has been different from Zelenskyy’s. The same day, on March 24, the US Secretary of State talked to his South African counterpart Madame Naledi Pandor.

Framing the issue, A.Blinken outlined threats from Russia’s war to the choice of food security and essential supplies for Africa.

Why? Two reasons.

  • First, the consensus about sanctions should be broader than G7.
  • Second, rising food prices and shrinking food quantities affect every nation. This can build a broad consensus about sanctions on Russia and other means to stop Putin.

Sneaky diplomatic noncommittal vs. sanctions

Joining the Free World in imposing sanctions over Russia can be painful. It is much easier to condemn the Russian invasion or to acknowledge the Russian role in a humanitarian crisis due to the bombing of civilians by the Russian troops.  That is why it is worth looking at the diplomatic battles before diving into international trade and finance.

Yet, South Africa, the only G20 member from the African continent, abstained in the voting on UN condemnation of the Russian invasion. And it was not alone.

Of 54 African nations with total population of 1.34 billion, 28 countries supported the condemnation (with population of 0.68 billion) while 26 countries include abstained, against and absent/non-voting (with population of 0.66 billion).

Eritrea was the only African nation that voted against the condemnation. It strongman president is in an open conflict with the US over support to militant groups in neighboring countries.

As regards the group of 26 countries that did not vote in support of the condemnation of Russia, commentators point to the Chinese influence that played a role.

This vote may be a sort of proxy for assessing the Chinese political influence over Africa.

The non-binding UN Resolution A/ES-11/L.1 was initiated by more than 90 countries to be considered on the 11th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly on March 2, 2022. It needed a two-thirds majority to pass, i.e., 129 of 193 UN member countries. In fact, it achieved 141 for, 5 against, 35 abstained, and 12 absent/non-voting. The map of abstentions covers most of Asia around China and below Russia, while most absentees/non-voters were in Africa. Europe and the Americas showed the most solid support to Ukraine in condemning the Russian aggression.

India voted “abstained” and publicly stated that it would not act against Russia. It wants to focus on countering China and not to spoil relations with Russia, its arms supplier.

India’s partners within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – the US, Japan and Australia – were not able to convince its conservative Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On the very same Thursday, March 24, South Africa attempted to water down the UN Resolution on “Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine” that demands aid access. Russia and Belarus supported the South African version along with some 48 nations (see the table and the UN voting screen). The South African version did not get through but the vote is revealing:

67 countries have shown unwavering support for Ukraine, while 126 countries have exhibited different degrees of noncommittal and perhaps opportunism.

UN General Assembly Resolutions
voted at the 11th Emergency Session

 foragainstabstainedabsent /
South African version of “Humanitarian consequences” (A/ES-11/L.3), voted down on March 2450673640
“Humanitarian consequences”
(A/ES-11/L.2), adopted on March 24
“Condemning Russian invasion”
(A/ES-11/L.1) vote on March 2

Vote for South Africa’s version of “Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine” resolution (A/ES-11/L.3) that was not approved on March 24

It is notable how the two South Asian countries with nuclear weapons voted:

  • India voted “abstained” for the reasons discussed above.
  • Pakistan voted “for” the South African version as a Chinese ally.

Sanctions: G7 and beyond

The map of countries that imposed sanctions on Russia does not look as colorful as the maps of UN votes.

OECD member countries Turkey, Israel and four Latin American countries do not participate in the sanctions even though the Paris-based OECD was founded as a forum of countries describing themselves as committed to democracy who want to stimulate economic progress and world trade.

While the financial and economic power of the G7 and other countries that imposed sanctions on Russia is undisputable, the world still needs to come together to bolster peace and prosperity.

Food crisis: the link between peace in Europe and prosperity around the world

The G7 initiated an extraordinary session of the FAO Council the same day as Anthony Blinken was making his argument about the food crisis to the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.

Qu Dongyu, a western-education Chinese agrobiologist who leads FAO since 2019, made a presentation to the G7 agriculture ministers, in which he emphasized that already prior to the crisis, international food prices reached an all-time high. Although he stopped short of naming the constrained Russian natural-gas supply as a factor of energy and fertilizer price hike, he acknowledged that combined Russia and Ukraine’s share of the world market of wheat was 30 percent, of sunflower oil was 55 percent, and of maize, barley and rapeseed oil was also significant for market prices in 2021.

Qu Dongyu underscored that wheat is a staple food for over 35 percent of the world’s population, or over 2.5 billion people, and the lack of a substitute for wheat is likely to compound the pressure on wheat prices. This will be felt by the market overall and not just by the few past importing countries close to the Black Sea shipping routes. It will be particularly felt by low-income food-import-dependent countries and vulnerable population groups.

The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2021-2030 explains that Sub-Saharan Africa’s import dependence is growing the fastest while import dependence of the region of North Africa and the Near East has always been very high.

Yet, Egypt and Lebanon, for example, voted for the South African watered-down UN resolution on humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, while Libya and Tunisia abstained.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist who became the first woman and first African to lead the WTO, predicted that rising world food prices because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine could provoke food riots in poor countries.

Putin, Holodomor, and Marie Antoinette

Ukraine is among the top ten exporters of wheat and rye, supplying approximately 10% of grain on the world market. Even during Covid, about half a billion people around the world ate bread that was baked from the Ukrainian grain. Many of these countries have not condemned Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea yet.

Last year, Egypt and Turkey bought the most Ukrainian grain. They also bought wheat and rye in Russia.

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand were buying grain in Ukraine, and so were other Arab countries and counties in Europe.

Ukraine has stopped supplying bread even under existing contracts. Its railway transports refugees. Its ports are blocked. The merchant ship “HELT” was lined up by the Russian Navy on the approaches to the Ukrainian port. After that, the passage of peaceful merchant ships stopped. This happened at the very beginning of the war.

In the early 1930s, Ukraine suffered from a man-made deadly famine, the Holodomor in Ukrainian. During the best harvests of the time, the Soviet government confiscated wheat and other food from the farmers, destroying the remnants of political independence and profiting from exporting the wheat, although dumping world prices, and stockpiling it in anticipation of a war. More and more nations agree now, almost 90 years later, that the Holodomor had legally defined features of genocide.

It is 2022 now, and Russia is on the march to deal a deadly blow to the modern world. The world where middle-income and low-income counties have not come together yet to defend peace will suffer the most. Poor people, especially in these countries, will bear the most severe consequences.

During the past week, Russia sent dozens of missiles to hit gas and diesel storage facilities across Ukraine (see Lviv, Lutsk, Rivne, Kyiv, Chrenihiv and many more). Putin resorted to these crimes after President Zelenskyy opened the sowing season, asking to figure out “how can we sow under the blows of Russian artillery?” Azerbaijan is under pressure now after its commitment to supply extra gas and diesel to Ukraine.

“If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake,” the young queen said on the eve of the French Revolution. When she was 37, she was taken to the guillotine. The French-speaking Swiss activist, volunteer and thought leader of her time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau made sure that her nonchalance remains in the world memory to this day. Will Putin be remembered the same way by people who have started paying more for food today and by those who will experience hunger because of the price hike?

Vladimir Putin, along with his courtiers and his countless cheerleaders all over Russia, is convinced that the world Holodomor-famine will not have immediate reactions that will hurt him. It seems the political leaders, especially in those 126 countries who did not vote explicitly “against” the South African version of UN Resolution “Humanitarian consequences of invasion” are of the same view as Putin’s courtiers. But the free people around the world should come together and, following examples of thought leaders and volunteers from 200 years ago, stand firm with Ukraine and restore the lasting peace. It is in the interest of everyone.

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