Putin’s Black Sea blockade wreaks havoc on world with millions facing hunger – MoD update

Ukraine: Host warns of bread shortages following wheat blockade

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According to the UK’s MoD, “no significant merchant shipping activity in or out of Odesa” has been recorded since Russia’s war on Ukraine began on February 24. The ministry’s report echoes the assessments of Ukrainian and Western officials who in recent weeks have warned the pressure on prices triggered by disrupted grain supplies is forcing people in poorer nations, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, into a tricky situation.

The MoD said on Wednesday Russia’s “naval blockade of key Black Sea ports has deterred the commercial shipping industry from operating in the area”, adding that “Ukraine’s overland export mechanisms are highly unlikely to substitute for the shortfall in shipping capacity”.

In pre-war times, Ukraine exported 95 percent of its vital foodstuffs by sea.

Now, among other options, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in talks with neighbouring countries about using their ports and getting produce there by train or truck.

There are 13 rail border crossings between Ukraine and European nations – four lead to Poland, three to Romania, two to Hungary, two to Slovakia and two to Moldova.

In theory, up to 50,000 tons of grain per day could be processed at these crossings. However, Kyiv is at the mercy of rail gauges.

While European railways generally use the standard gauge of 1,435mm — also known as the “Stephenson gauge” — Ukraine’s railways use the Russian 1,520mm gauge.

This difference presents an important challenge when it comes to lifting Ukrainian wagons onto undercarriages – a key step in the transfer of goods at borders to head West.

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The railways of Lithuania and Latvia operate on the same gauge as Ukraine, and both countries have offered their ports to ship Kyiv’s grain to other continents.

Yet, gauges are not the only challenge.

There is a shortage in locomotives and grain cars in European countries to deal with a sudden surge in goods arriving from Ukraine, with rail crossings in Romania and Poland already at full capacity.

Other railways, such as Moldova’s, have weight limits that are half those of Ukraine.

And customs paperwork isn’t easy, either.

The MoD’s intelligence report continued: “Fighting has already placed indirect pressure on global grain prices.

“While the threat of Russia’s naval blockade continues to deter access by commercial shipping to Ukrainian ports, the resulting supply shortfalls will further increase the price of many staple products.”

Globally, food prices are now nearly 30 percent higher than at the same time last year, according to the UN.

The global price of wheat, meanwhile, has risen by more than 50 percent this year, as per agricultural consultant SovEcon, which estimates the Kremlin has collected $1.9billion (about £1.53billion) in revenues from wheat export taxes so far this season.

Amid a deepening global food crisis, the country that created it is also winning from it.

Russia has continued to ship its wheat — of course, at the now-higher price, thus cashing in more — to still-willing buyers with increased revenues per ton.

With experts expecting a rich next wheat crop season, Moscow is set to continue profiting from the mess it created.

On the opposite of the spectrum are nations in danger of “malnutrition, mass hunger and famine”.

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Speaking at a UN security council meeting in New York last Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned some countries could face long-term starvation if Ukraine’s exports are not restored to pre-war levels.

The effects of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, he added, have contributed to the emergency, too.

Mr Guterres said the only effective solution to the food crisis was reintroducing Ukraine’s food production, as well as fertiliser produced by both Russia and Belarus, back into global trading.

He stressed: “There is enough food in our world now if we act together. But unless we solve this problem today, we face the spectre of global food shortage in the coming months.”

US secretary of state Antony Blinken joined the UN chief in calling on the Kremlin to “stop threatening to withhold food and fertiliser exports from countries that criticise your war of aggression”.

Demanding Moscow lift its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, he said: “The Russian government seems to think that using food as a weapon will help accomplish what its invasion has not – to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people.

“The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military.”

Prior to the conflict, Ukraine was seen as the world’s breadbasket – with 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce exiting its ports each month.

Mr Zelensky on Saturday accused Russia of blocking the export of 22 million tonnes of food products.

He told reporters: “The world community must help Ukraine unblock seaports, otherwise the energy crisis will be followed by a food crisis and many more countries will face it.

“Russia has blocked almost all ports and all, so to speak, maritime opportunities to export food – our grain, barley, sunflower and more. A lot of things.

“There will be a crisis in the world. The second crisis after the energy one, which was provoked by Russia. Now it will create a food crisis if we do not unblock the routes for Ukraine, do not help the countries of Africa, Europe, Asia, which need these food products.”

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