Russia Considers Ukraine’s Grain Stockpiles as Legitimate Military Targets
In a heated debate on the connection between war and famine, a top Russian diplomat, Dmitry Polyanskiy, declared that Russia regards Ukraine’s grain stockpiles as legitimate military targets under international law. Polyanskiy made this statement during a session at the United Nations Security Council.
“The prohibitions on attacking or destroying agricultural infrastructure do not apply if such infrastructure is used as sustenance for the members of the armed forces or in direct support of military action,” Polyanskiy emphasized.
Russian Forces Bombard Ukrainian Port Cities and Grain Stores
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin withdrew from an international deal allowing the export of Ukrainian grain, Russian forces have launched a persistent bombardment on Ukrainian port cities and grain stores. This aggressive action has raised concerns among Russia and Ukraine’s Western partners, as the soaring food prices put diplomatic pressure on the governments involved.
Food Security and the United Nations Charter
Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the Security Council, emphasizing the importance of strengthening food security to fulfill the vision of the United Nations Charter. He drew attention to a statue outside the UN building, depicting a figure symbolizing the biblical directive to “beat swords into plowshares.” Blinken invoked a moral imperative, urging nations to commit to not using their swords to destroy others’ plows.
By referencing the Book of Isaiah, which states, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,” Blinken aimed to highlight the contradiction between Russia’s actions and the principles represented by the statue. The statue was gifted to the United Nations by the USSR in 1959.
Russia’s Use of Food as a “Quiet Weapon”
Russia has employed a recurring strategy of using food as a “quiet weapon,” as described by Kremlin Security Council chairman Dmitry Medvedev. This tactic has kept food security at the forefront of the international agenda throughout the full-scale invasion. Medvedev stated last year, “We will supply food and crops only to our friends.”
During the debate, Polyanskiy proudly announced that Russia has decided to send “25 to 50,000 tons of grains free of charge” to a bloc of six African countries. These countries either have a security relationship with Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group, have expressed political support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or sided with Russia in recent United Nations General Assembly votes on Ukraine-related resolutions.
By framing their actions as part of a mission to build a more equitable system of resource distribution, Russia aims to counter Western neo-colonialist accusations. They argue that developing states should not be dependent on politically-conditioned humanitarian aid, which they view as a form of primitive blackmail.
African States’ Response and the Black Sea Grain Initiative
Russia’s deployment of anti-colonialist rhetoric could potentially deter African states from criticizing Moscow’s decision to scuttle the Black Sea grain initiative. Ambassador Harold Agyeman, who leads Ghana’s mission to the United Nations, expressed concern and disappointment over the initiative not being renewed. He suggested that renewing the initiative, along with resolving challenges related to the export of Russian ammonia, agricultural products, and fertilizers, would be a more sustainable approach to prevent spikes in global food prices and strengthen global food security.
Western Sanctions and Russia’s Justification
Russian officials argue that Western economic sanctions have hindered their agricultural exports, justifying their blockade of Ukrainian grain as a means to pressure for an easing of these measures. Polyanskiy stated, “Until the illegitimate obstacles artificially created by the West affecting Russian economic operators’ ability to supply agricultural products are eliminated, it will hardly be possible to restore the normal functioning of supply chains.”
Secretary Blinken dismissed this argument, clarifying that the United States has not sanctioned Russian food exports. He assured that the US has worked with banks and shipping companies to facilitate the export of Russian food supplies. Blinken emphasized the importance of allowing everyone, including Russia, to freely and safely export their food products to benefit from lower prices.
Overall, the debate highlighted the complex relationship between war, famine, and international diplomacy, with Russia’s actions regarding Ukraine’s grain stockpiles raising significant concerns among the global community.
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