Russia Pledges to Maybe Not Starve Millions to Death if Sanctions Are Lifted

One of the side effects of war is economic dislocation. No matter what Vladimir Putin chooses to call his war in Ukraine, it is a war, and it is dislocating markets worldwide. Most of the attention has been on the potential disruption of Russian oil and gas supplies to Europe, but a more significant problem than cold Euros is looming. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading exporters of wheat and sunflower oil. Because of Putin’s War, Ukrainian products can’t pass through the Black Sea to get to market.


Fears of a global food crisis are swelling as Russian attacks on Ukraine’s ability to produce and export grain have choked off one of the world’s breadbaskets, fueling charges that President Vladimir V. Putin is using food as a powerful new weapon in his three-month-old war.

World leaders called on Tuesday for international action to deliver 20 million tons of grain now trapped in Ukraine, predicting that the alternative could be hunger in some countries and political unrest in others, in what could be the gravest global repercussion yet of Russia’s assault on its neighbor. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where worries about the war’s consequences have eclipsed almost every other issue, speakers reached for apocalyptic language to describe the threat.

To make matters worse, Russia has closed areas of the Black Sea to all traffic from all nations, no matter what the ships are carrying.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the grim assessment last week in remarks at the United Nations, calling Russia’s blockade “a deliberate effort” to destabilize the world’s food supply.

Since Russia issued a warning to mariners in February that significant areas of the Black Sea were closed to commercial traffic, “the Russian military has repeatedly blocked safe passage to and from Ukraine by closing the Kerch Strait, tightening its control over the Sea of Azov, stationing warships off Ukrainian ports. And Russia has struck Ukrainian ports multiple times,” Blinken said.

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


There are a couple of different parts to this story. Russia is looting grain from occupied areas of Ukraine and selling it on the world market. They also destroy infrastructure like silos and grain elevators and take Ukrainian farm machinery to Russia.

Never one to let a perfectly good crisis go to waste, Putin is pushing the west to end sanctions on Russia in return for it ending its blockade of Ukrainian ports.


The very premise of Putin’s proposal is ludicrous and dishonest. Because of those features, France, Germany, and Italy may go along. In removing the blockade, Russia doesn’t give any assurances about putting ships in Odessa or the grain elevators and rail systems that supply them off-limits. My view is that a) it is very unlikely that Putin gives a rat’s ass about hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of non-Russians starving to death; in fact, he probably sees this as a feature rather than a bug, and b) equally unlikely that Putin will allow Ukraine to earn money from exports. By removing the blockade and going after the infrastructure in Odessa, he removes sanctions, sustains a famine that he probably wants to create, and prevents Ukraine from earning cash off exported wheat and seed oils.

Will this gambit work? Can you cut a deal to rid yourself of sanctions imposed because you started a war of aggression if you promise not to starve a few million people to death? Even when there is no guarantee those people still won’t starve if sanctions are removed? Never lose sight of the fact that Putin is a strategic genius in the same way that “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” He’s dealing with self-serving idiots incapable of resolve, so don’t count out the EU shouting “Leeeeeroy Jenkins,” and coming to Putin’s rescue.



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