Russia Attacks Ukraine’s Food Infrastructure Amid Expanded Drone War

Russia Attacks Ukraine’s Food Infrastructure Amid Expanded Drone War
A part of a Russian cruise missile Kalibr inside a building damaged during Russian missile and drone strikes in Odesa, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine on July 18, 2023. (Press Service of the Operational Command South of the Ukrainian Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
Andrew Thornebrooke

Russia is increasing drone strikes against Ukrainian food infrastructure, endangering the nation’s food supply and sending worldwide grain prices upward, according to the U.S. State Department.

The effort is part of a wider campaign by Russia to limit or destroy Ukraine’s ability to feed itself and much of the world, according to U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel.

“Today we are learning that multiple Russian drone attacks damaged warehouses and granaries in a Ukrainian port on the Danube near the Romanian border,” Mr. Patel said during an Aug. 16 press briefing.

“This is in addition to previous Russian attacks on Ukrainian port infrastructure in Odesa, Reni, and Izmail. This escalation demonstrates that Moscow continues to prevent grain and foodstuffs from reaching those who need it most throughout the world.”

Ukraine is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of wheat and a major exporter of corn, sunflower seeds, and vegetable oil. The loss of any amount of Ukraine’s food exports, therefore, carries a heavy cost across global markets.

The strikes threaten to further impair an output already crippled by war and famine. A fact that the State Department was keen to highlight.

“These attacks are in addition to the loss of a quarter of the arable land in Ukraine, a vital global breadbasket,” Mr. Patel said.

“Putin simply does not care about global food security.”

Russia Pushes for Its Own Grain Deal

For much of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the embattled nation was able to continue vital food shipments abroad because of Russia’s participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. That framework permitted international food shipments to and from Ukraine, provided a third party could verify that the vessels weren’t carrying arms for Ukraine’s defense.

However, Russia unilaterally chose to not renew the initiative last month and has since embarked on a campaign to systematically destroy Ukrainian port and silo infrastructure, limiting Ukraine’s ability to ship or even store food.

The International Monetary Fund estimated in June that Russia’s exit from the deal could drive global grain prices up by as much as 15 percent. That number could increase even further now, should Ukraine’s stores be further diminished by Russian attacks.

“Any country that cares about food security, that cares about feeding its people ... should be deeply concerned about this,” Mr. Patel said.

“The United States condemns Russia’s continued attacks on Ukrainian grain infrastructure and calls on Russia to immediately return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative.”

For its part, Russia claims that it would be willing to consider rejoining the initiative if the United States and other nations created more favorable conditions for agricultural exports from Russia, including connecting its agricultural bank to the international monetary system SWIFT from which Russia has been banned for its attempted conquest of Ukraine.

“Western countries must focus on ensuring that Russian grain and fertilizers get to countries in need without hindrance,” Russian Deputy Envoy to the U.N. Dmitry Polyansky said earlier this month.

Nevertheless, Russia has announced that all ships proceeding to Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea will be considered potential carriers of military cargo for an enemy state, regardless of whether they’re flagged as civilian ships.

Asked whether he believed that Russia’s intentional targeting of food infrastructure constituted a war crime, Mr. Patel demurred, instead comparing it to “atrocities” committed by Russian forces.

“Our commitment to our Ukrainian partners is unwavering,” he said.

Attacks on Nonmilitary Targets Increase

The saga of Ukraine’s grain woes comes amid the wider context of increasing attacks on nonmilitary targets by both Russia and Ukraine in recent months.
Authorities in both Russia and Ukraine last month accused one another of terrorism following a weekend of drone attacks in both nations.

Moscow claims that it shot down three drones on July 29, one in the Odintsovo district near Moscow and two more in an upscale area of Moscow proper.

Russian authorities claim that the attacks didn’t result in any casualties and caused only insignificant damage. However, photos and video of the aftermath show a corner of a single floor of a highrise in the Moscow City Complex completely destroyed.
The incident echoes a similar event in early June. At that time, several drones struck a wealthy Moscow neighborhood and appeared to be targeting key Russian intelligence officials.
Several Russian strikes on apartment complexes in Ukraine killed four and injured 44 more, according to Ukraine State Emergency Service chief Serhiy Kruk.

The escalation in long-range strikes comes as both nations struggle to make gains in war-torn eastern Ukraine. Whereas Russian forces face low morale and supply shortages, Ukrainian forces have been stymied by massive Russian minefields placed over the first 500 days of the war.

Speaking at a July 18 meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group, a 54-nation alliance providing Ukraine with weapons for its self-defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said such was the reality of war.

“Real war is not predictable,” he said. “It is filled with fear and fog and friction. Real war is brutal.

“That’s the difference between war on paper and real war.”

Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
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