The Russian UN Ambassador walked out of a Security Council meeting on Monday after the European Council President accused Russia of engineering a food crisis with its war on Ukraine.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said “Russia alone” was responsible for the food crisis, addressing Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia, saying, “Mr. Ambassador of the Russian Federation, let’s be honest, the Kremlin is using food supplies as a stealth missile against developing countries.
“The dramatic consequences of Russia’s war are spilling over across the globe This is driving up food prices, pushing people into poverty, and destabilizing entire regions,” Michel said.
As Nebenzia got up to leave the room, Michel called out after him, “You may leave the room, maybe it’s easier not to listen to the truth, dear Ambassador.”
As he left the Security Council chamber, a visibly irritated Nebenzia told Reuters that he couldn’t stay because of “the lies that Charles Michel came here to distribute.”
The food crisis
While Russia has accused the UN of disseminating lies, the UN has accused the Kremlin of its own campaign of disinformation.
Michel at the Security Council meeting recounted his own experience in Odesa, seeing millions of tons of grain and wheat held up in containers and ships because of Russian warships in the Black Sea and Russian attacks on transport infrastructure.
“It is Russia’s tanks, bombs, and mines that are preventing Ukraine from planting and harvesting. The Kremlin is also targeting grain storage and stealing grain from areas it has occupied while shifting the blame on others,” Michel said.
“This is cowardly. This is propaganda. Pure and simple propaganda,” he added.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fueled a seismic shift in the global wheat market. Since it first invaded Ukraine, the price of grains, cooking oil, fuel, and fertilizer have soared.
Before the war, Ukraine and Russia together accounted for a third of global wheat and barley exports. Ukraine alone exported 4.5 million tons of agricultural produce a month—growing 12% of the world’s wheat, 15% of its corn, and half of its sunflower oil.
But since Russia invaded Ukraine, ports have been blocked, grain silos destroyed, and trade flows upended. The UN has previously said that nearly 25 million tons of grain were stuck in Ukraine, unable to leave the country due to obstructed seaports and infrastructure issues.
“It’s an almost grotesque situation we see at the moment in Ukraine with nearly 25 million tonnes of grain that could be exported but that cannot leave the country simply because of lack of infrastructure, the blockade of the ports,” Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO, the UN’s food agency, told a Geneva press briefing on May 6.
This has an outsize effect on lower-income countries. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on May 19 Ukraine related shortages could “tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity,” adding that the war could result in “malnutrition, mass hunger, and famine in a crisis that could last for years” and increase the chances of a global recession.
Yet there have been no agricultural sanctions against Russia for this crisis. “Zero,” Michel said at the UN Security Council meeting, noting “even our sanctions on the Russian transport sector do not go beyond our EU borders. They do not prevent Russian flagged vessels from carrying grain, food, or fertilizers to developing countries.”
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