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.
Russia Pushes for Its Own Grain DealFor 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.
“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.”
“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.
Attacks on Nonmilitary Targets IncreaseThe 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.
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.
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.
“That’s the difference between war on paper and real war.”