U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called on Russia to stop using food as a “weapon of war” as Moscow systemically targets Ukrainian grain supplies and ports.
“I think Russia is hearing a demand signal from countries around the world that they they need to stop using food as a weapon of war in Ukraine,” Blinken told ABC News.
His remarks come as the United Nations Security Counsel was set to convene in New York, where global food insecurity aggravated by the Ukraine-Russia war is set to top the agenda.
“We know food security is national security,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield. The U.S. has taken the rotating helm of the Security Counsel for the month of August.
Thomas-Greenfield added, “Russia has launched a full-scale assault on the world’s bread basket and it is dead set on depriving the world of Ukraine’s grains.”
On Wednesday, Russian attacks on the Ukrainian port of Izmail, across the Danube River from Romania, destroyed buildings and halted ships that were preparing to arrive to load up Ukrainian grain.
The strikes follow Russia’s withdrawal in mid-July from the 2022 U.N.-backed Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by Turkey, that allowed Ukraine to ship grain to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Russian officials have said their actions are in “retribution” for a deadly explosion on the Kerch Bridge, the only direct access way from the annexed Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland. Ukrainian forces have claimed responsibility for that attack.
Ukraine supplies 10% of the world wheat market, 15% of the corn market, and 13% of the barley market.
As a result of Russia’s targeting of the ports, Ukraine grain exports in July fell 40% from the previous month, driving up prices around the world, to the point where the United Nations’ World Food Program has had to cut back on aid to refugees in the Middle East.
Blinken said Thursday that U.S. officials “hope” Russia will engage with international leaders on grain shipments out of Ukraine.
“We’ve got 91 countries to date signed up not to use food as a weapon of war,” he said.
However, recent pleas from international leaders appear to have fallen on deaf ears inside the Kremlin.
Last week, the leaders of 17 African nations left the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg without a resolution to their calls for Russia to return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
And on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin once again reaffirmed his stance on the initiative, telling his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow would return to the grain deal as soon as the West met its obligations with regard to Russia’s own grain exports. Though Russia’s grain and fertilizer exports are not subject to Western sanctions, the Kremlin has asserted that restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have obstructed shipments.