Russia ‘arms’ food, Joly tells Commonwealth partners


Commonwealth leaders, meeting for the first time in four years, discussed food security and the risk of famine as Canada’s foreign secretary sought to shift blame for the looming crisis onto Russia’s feet.

“What is clear to us is that Russia is militarizing food, wreaking havoc in many countries around the world and putting 50 million lives at risk,” Mélanie Joly told reporters Friday night, while recapping the first day of the Commonwealth Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.

Ukraine is the world’s fourth largest grain exporter and is said to have over 30 million tonnes of grain in stock awaiting export. Farmers are reportedly building temporary silos and are worried as the summer harvest is just weeks away.

The country’s Black Sea ports of Odessa, Pivdennyi, Mykolaiv and Chornomorsk serve as major terminals – shipping around 4.5 million tonnes of grain a month, but a Russian naval blockade prevents any movement.

A recent report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded that Russia is taking advantage of transportation bottlenecks to attack Ukraine’s food storage facilities.

Russian forces raided grain silos across the country and stole around 400,000 to 500,000 tonnes of grain from occupied areas, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.

The CSIS report, posted online on June 15, noted that “Russia destroyed one of Europe’s largest food storage facilities in Brovary, about 19 kilometers northeast of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. “.

Journalists enter a destroyed warehouse to store food, after an attack by Russia 12 days earlier in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 29. (Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)

The subject of the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain exports will also be at the center of the G7 leaders’ meeting, starting on Sunday in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a scathing critique of the crisis last week, blaming the United States, not Russian military actions in Ukraine, for endangering food security and rising inflation and fuel prices.

He reinforced the message in a phone call last week with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was one of the Commonwealth leaders to skip this week’s meeting.

Africa is heavily dependent on Ukrainian grain and, to a lesser extent, Russian grain.

For the leaders who showed up in Rwanda, Joly said Canada had been clear in assigning blame for the crisis.

Sanctions not to blame, says Joly

“It’s not the fault of Western sanctions,” she said. “It’s really Putin’s war of choice that affects food security around the world.”

Ten Commonwealth members refrained from condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in a United Nations resolution last spring.

Joly said she believed Canada had made “progress” at the conference in convincing some of those nations to stand more firmly with Ukraine, but she was not specific.

At a policy session held ahead of the Commonwealth leaders’ meeting, there was a call for African countries to be more self-sufficient in food supplies to offset imports.

Agnes Kalibata, chairwoman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), told the conference that the agriculture sector in developing Commonwealth countries is “grossly underinvested”. She called for adequate funding to boost “the productivity of the sector, build its resilience and address climate change, as well as create jobs”, according to local media.