Russia ready to resume talks as UN warns of food crisis

May 29, 2022 - 18:32

President Vladimir Putin has reaffirmed the Russian side’s openness to the “resumption of dialogue” with Ukraine while warning against the delivery of weapons to the war zone. 

According to the Kremlin, Putin made the remarks during a three-way telephone conversation with the President of France Emmanuel Macron, and the Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz. 

The Kremlin says a lot of emphasis was placed on the progress of the peace negotiations, which have recently stalled. 

According to the German chancellor’s spokesperson, during the 80-minute call, Macron and Scholz called for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine.

The leaders exchanged views on the most recent developments in Ukraine, where Russian forces are advancing in the Eastern Donbass region. The Kremlin says Putin informed the other leaders at length about the latest events of Russia’s military operations, noting that the Russian Armed Forces “are strictly observing the norms of international humanitarian law, and spoke about the systematic work being carried out to establish peaceful life in Mariupol” as well as other cities in Donbass.

The Ukrainian government accuses Russian forces of violating international law, an allegation Moscow has rejected. 

During the trilateral talks, the Russian President criticized the “continued dangerous practice” of pumping Ukraine with Western weapons, while cautioning “against the risks of the country’s further destabilization and aggravation of the humanitarian crisis.”

The U.S. Department of Defense has declined to confirm media reports that say the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden was preparing to deliver long-range missile systems to Kyiv.

Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. has described such a development as “unacceptable” and called on the Biden White House to “abandon statements about the military victory of Ukraine”.

A post on social media published by the Russian embassy in America cited ambassador Anatoliy Antonov as saying “the unprecedented pumping of weapons into Ukraine significantly increases the risks of an escalation of the conflict.”

Washington has been supplying Kyiv with increasingly sophisticated weaponry, despite concerns and question marks on the conditions attached as to how Ukraine will repay the money for the weapons. 

Nevertheless, Kyiv has urged Western countries to send more advanced weaponry. Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, says “we are in great need of weapons that will make it possible to engage the enemy over a long distance.”

The Kremlin added that the Russian, German and French leaders reviewed in detail global food security concerns. The Russian leader expressed Moscow’s position on the unstable food supplies and disruption as a result of the war citing “western countries’ erroneous economic and financial policies, as well as their anti-Russia sanctions.”

Putin is said to have backed up his remarks during the conference call with evidence and specific data. 

Russia says it is ready to help find options for unhindered grain exports, including the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports. Increasing the supplies of Russian fertilizers and agricultural produce to help reduce tensions in the global food market.

However, Putin says that this will definitely require the lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia. 

Earlier, Putin held a telephone conversation with the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi where the two leaders thoroughly discussed the status of global food security. 

In a readout released by the Kremlin, Putin told Draghi that “these difficulties had been caused, in part, by failures in production and supply chains, as well as the financial policy of the Western countries during the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S.- and EU-imposed anti-Russia restrictions have made a bad situation worse.”

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the global food crisis happened long before the start of the crisis in Ukraine, due to factors such as the pandemic, and miscalculations of Western governments. 

At the same time, Lavrov noted the war has exacerbated the problem and says Western sanctions have become one of the key reasons for the disruption of food supplies, which worsened the crisis.

The vice director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Maurizio Martina says the number of people around the world facing acute hunger is predicted to increase by 18 million because of the crisis in Ukraine.

Speaking to Italian media, he says the UN agency’s estimates are that in 2021, famine-affected 53 countries, leaving almost 200 million people around the globe suffering from hunger.

“This war will further aggravate the scenario. Our first estimates point to an increase of another 18 million people, but it is clear that much will also depend on the development of the conflict,” Martina said.

The FAO senior official pointed out that the threat to global grain supplies in developing countries has triggered alarm since 36 of the countries with a food crisis had previously bought more than ten percent of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

There are difficulties in exporting grain due to shipping problems at the  Black Sea ports, where, according to Martina, millions of tons of wheat and corn are stuck. 

The UN official says the fighting in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions on Russia have also had a knock-on effect on the prices and availability of fertilizers. 

All these issues combined have pushed up the cost of wheat, which could worsen the global food crisis.

“As the World Bank has estimated, a one percent increase in basic food prices can mean at least ten million people at risk of hunger… If prices [of fertilizers] remain so high, and access to agriculture in developing countries becomes more and more difficult, the consequences will be very problematic with a sharp decline in crops,” Martina said. 

He added that “no national policy can tackle global food insecurity alone,” calling on governments to form a multilateral strategy to deal with the situation.”

Reopening the Black Sea ports can help alleviate the global food crisis as large quantities of goods can be exported through them. Rail shipments, he noted, cannot deliver in a timely fashion as is required at the moment. 

The West has accused Russia of blocking these ports, but Moscow has strongly rejected the accusations. 

Martina said at least six million tons of wheat and about fourteen million tons of corn are stuck in Ukrainian ports. 

Asked about the percentage of wheat the European Union imports from Ukraine, he replied that "overall, grain exports from Ukraine to Europe in 2020 were around 5.4 billion euros.  For developing countries, the situation is much more delicate and worrying: there are at least 36 of the 55 countries with food crises that depend on Ukraine and Russian exports for over 10% of their total wheat imports”

The UN official added that "If prices remain so high and access becomes increasingly difficult for agriculture in developing countries, the impacts will be very problematic with drastic decreases in crops.”

Even before the conflict in Ukraine began, world hunger was already growing. 

Martina warned that “nearly 200 million people in 53 countries in 2021 entered a daily situation of acute hunger with a jump of 40 million people in just twelve months. This war will further aggravate the scenario, our first estimates indicate an increase of another 18 million people but it is clear that much will also depend on the evolution of the conflict.”

The warning has led advocates to renew calls for an end to the fighting and a global effort to bring both sides together on the negotiating table and find a peaceful solution.

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