Fears grow that Putin is set to weaponise grain supply chain

Russia pulls plug on agreement brokered by UN that allowed Ukraine grain exports, sparking fears Putin is set to send wheat prices soaring

​​​​​​​Fears are rising that Russia is set to weaponise global supplies of grain, after Vladimir Putin pulled out of an agreement allowing Ukraine to safely export grain via the Black Sea.

The grain deal is vital, because Ukraine is one of the world's largest exporters of sunflower, maize, wheat and barley. Countries hardest hit will be those sourcing cheaper Ukrainian wheat

Pre-war, in 2021, Ukraine was the world’s sixth largest wheat exporter in, accounting for 10% of the global market share. 

Following Russia's invasion in February 2022, Russian naval vessels blockaded Ukrainian ports and trapped 20 million tonnes of grain. The blockade meant global food prices skyrocketed.

An agreement was finally brokered in July 2022, with the help of the United Nations and Turkey. But on Monday, Moscow notified the UN, Turkey and Ukraine that it did not intend to renew the deal, accusing the West of not keeping its side of the bargain.

The decision has been condemned by world leaders, who say it will affect some of the planet's poorest people.

Ukraine, along with southwestern Russia, is known as ‘Europe’s breadbasket’, thanks to the region's rich dark soil. The region accounts for 15% of the world’s wheat production, and 30% of world exports. 

Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria have already felt the sting of wheat shortages since the start of the Ukraine war.

Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat and, pre-war, got 60% of its imports from Russia and 40% from Ukraine. Other African nations are also vulnerable, with the global NGO Human Rights Watch saying Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Tanzania are also highly reliant on Ukrainian wheat.

Putin Ukraine grain export ban condemned by EU 

Now the world’s eyes are on Russia, and whether Putin weaponises its vast wheat exports. Taking wheat harvests from 2022 and 2023, Russia is the world’s largest supplier, exporting around 45 million metric tons.

Russia said it would honour the agreement if certain conditions are met, with Russian President Vladimir Putin claiming that under the deal grain had not been supplied to poorer countries, which was a condition of the agreement.

EU commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of a "cynical move", while the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, describes the move as an "act of cruelty".

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, says Ukraine intends to continue exporting grain.

"We are not afraid," he said of Russia's decision to withdraw from their deal.

"We were approached by companies who own vessels and they're willing to continue shipping grain if Ukraine agrees to let them in and Turkey – to pass them through."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will discuss the renewal of the deal with Putin when they meet in person next month.

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