Russia is starving the world

Russia is starving the world. By David Patrikarakos.

Ukraine is a country cursed by its good luck. It is well-known that it is perennially — and unambiguously — cursed by geography: it sits next to Russia, which has brought it the USSR, Josef Stalin, the gulags and an unsuccessful Cold War. There isn’t really any upside to all this.

Less known is that Ukraine also suffers from its own fecundity. The country is coated in so-called “black soil” (Chernozem), which contains the humus and variety of micro elements that make it the most fertile soil in the world. In it grows massive amounts of barley, wheat, corn, soy, rape seed and sunflowers. Only about 2% of the world’s soil is black soil and about 25% of that is found in Ukraine. …  It is an agricultural superpower.

Russian looters and thieves:

Since the Russians invaded on 24 February, they have destroyed civilian districts, smashed public infrastructure, and tortured and executed prisoners. They have also stolen farm equipment, shelled food storage sites and stolen thousands of tonnes of grain. It’s systemic and it’s planned and most obvious in the country’s south, where I spent considerable time over the past two months. … In the Kherson village of Mala Lepetykha, Russian soldiers reportedly stole 1,500 tons of grain from storage units which they then drove to Crimea.

“It’s very simple,” says Andrey Stavnitser, co-owner and CEO of Ukrainian port operating company TransInvestService. “They’re stealing grain in the areas they have invaded — Mariupol, Kherson Melitopol and so on — which they then take to Crimea, load onto vessels pretending its Russian grain, and then sell. With grain, if you don’t tag it, it’s impossible to tell where it comes from, especially if they mix it with Crimean and Russian grain.” …

Ukraine can’t export its food, because of the Russian blockade:

Russia stole Crimea in 2014 and with it the Ukraine’s most important port. Now it has taken Mariupol and, with it, Ukraine’s access to the Azov sea. …

Ukraine has 320 million tonnes of grain stuck in the country from last year’s crop, which Stavnitser calculates is costing Ukraine around $15 billion of revenue. To make matters worse, the new crop is ready in late June, which means more will need to be stored if it cannot be sold. But Kyiv usually just sells its grain immediately so it never bothered investing in the appropriate technology for longer-term storage. Now the grain risks going rotten. …

Several African countries depend on Ukrainian grain. Around 40% of Egyptian milling grain — the grain that is used for bread — comes from Ukraine. If this fails to materialise there won’t be famine but there would likely be widespread hunger. The effect of this on the country, as well as on the region’s political stability, would almost certainly be catastrophic.

History rhyming:

In her book Red Famine, the historian Anne Applebaum writes that “long before collectivisation began, the phenomenon of the violent expropriator — a man who brandished a gun, spouted slogans and demanded food — was familiar in Soviet Ukraine.” Now the violent expropriators are back and almost a century later, not only have their goals — the theft of Ukraine’s resources — remained unchanged, but seemingly also their tactics.

The Russian army still fights like the Red Army did during the Second World War. Its tactics remain equally stupid, its brutality equally unchecked. …

The more Russia stirs memories of the Holodomor the more national feeling it breeds in Ukranians; the more it steals and rapes and kills, the more Ukraine becomes determined to resist — until the end if need be.

So much Russia behavior in this war seems to be explained by corruption and lack of social cohesion. Not impressive.