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Prof. Dr. Masahiro Matsumura*

FROMSince the beginning of the war in Ukraine, world grain prices have risen sharply, especially for wheat, corn and sunflower. This circumstance sharply exacerbated the already serious shortage of grain due to frequent droughts and other adverse climatic fluctuations, which is now developing into a global food crisis. According to the UN World Food Programme, 49 million people in developing countries are at risk of starvation, manifested in riots and protests in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru, and destabilizing dynamics in the Sahel, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad, among others[2].

It should be noted that Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of wheat, which together provide about 30% of world wheat exports. The West has imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia, especially the exclusion of the country from SWIFT, or the dominant online US dollar international settlement system, which hampers the country’s exports. In addition, Western governments and the media condemn Moscow for mining major ports on the Black and Azov Seas, especially Mariupol and Odessa.

However, such a minelaying of the Mariupol port is harmful to Russia, to say the least, since a significant part of Russian grain exports also depends on the port’s capacity and protected sea lanes in the two seas.[3]Thus, Moscow certainly considers it most rational to keep Mariupol free of mines while, with its vast superiority in naval power, to impose a naval blockade against Ukraine’s naval operations, recruitment and trade, with strategic implications.

On the other hand, Ukraine will be forced to adopt a no-access strategy against Russian naval power, actively using sea mines as well as coastal defense cruise missiles.[4]. This is due to the fact that the naval power of Ukraine is much inferior to the Black Sea Fleet of Russia. In addition, its counter-amphibious ground and air forces are also very limited, especially in the early stages of the war, when the country had to fight in international isolation without any significant military assistance and arms supplies. In early March, Belarusian President Lukashenko inadvertently showed a secret map of Russia’s military plan to attack Ukraine, including naval strikes on Odessa.[5].

Such a strategy became apparent and somewhat effective in mid-April, when Ukraine successfully sank the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet Moskva with US assistance, using its homegrown Neptune anti-ship cruise missile. military intelligence to locate and target the ship on the coast of Odessa.

Thus, it is most likely that Ukrainian troops laid mines against a possible Russian amphibious assault aimed at occupying Mariupol and Odessa. Given the close intelligence cooperation between Washington and Kyiv, the planting of the mines was likely carried out on the advice of US military intelligence.

No wonder Moscow attributes the mine laying to Kyiv[6]and quickly cleared the port of Mariupol, ensuring safe passage through the Sea of ​​Azov.[7] In fact, Kyiv still does not want to clear mines for the sake of creating guarded corridors.[8].

Against the backdrop of an intense interplay of military propaganda and counter-propaganda, Western condemnation of Russian mine-laying has hardly proved convincing in the BRICS and other major developing countries that have not participated in Western economic sanctions against Russia led by the United States.

In response to growing international pressure, Moscow says that if the West lifts economic sanctions, it is now ready to lift the blockade of seven Ukrainian ports, including Odessa, and create protected sea lanes for international shipping.[9]. Currently, Moscow and Ankara are preparing for negotiations on the implementation of these corridors in the Black Sea.[10].

As the global food crisis unfolds, the developing world will largely welcome Russia’s move to fill the supply gap, especially as the country expects a large grain harvest to support an increase in exports this year.[11].

Consequently, the West faces a dilemma. If the West decides to lift the current sanctions, it will be a confirmation of Russian aggression against Ukraine, which will accelerate the weakening of the existing liberal international order. Conversely, if the West decides to continue sanctions, it will exacerbate the emerging food crisis and instability in many developing countries, pushing them towards authoritarianism and further weakening the international order. Then, when importing grain from Russia, developing countries will have to rely on an alternative online international settlement system, most likely the China Cross-border Interbank Payments System (CIPS), whose network is gradually and steadily growing. in tandem with the many infrastructure projects under the Bridge and Road Initiative in developing countries.

Most importantly, such a likely outcome carries significant risks of further weakening the key monetary role of the US dollar as an important pillar of US economic hegemony and the US-led international order. This is especially true because the US Federal Reserve is about to embark on a full-scale quantitative tightening that will have a devastating effect on the deepening structural vulnerability of the US national economy, weighed down by huge total federal debt.

Thus, it is China that is likely to benefit most from the ongoing policy of the global food crisis, while drawing Russia more into its geo-economic orbit.

Now the West needs to rebuild its comprehensive approach to the war in Ukraine, overcoming its myopic focus on the military dimension.

about the author:

Prof. Dr. Masahiro Matsumura is Professor of International Politics and National Security at St. Andrew’s University School of Law (Momoyama Gakuin Daigaku). He is a member of the IFIMES Council.

The views expressed in this explanatory note are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of IFIMES..


[1] IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has been in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC/UN, New York since 2018.

[2] Jack Phillips. ‘World Wheat Stocks Only 10 Weeks Left, Analyst Warns’, The Epoch Times, May 22, 2022, https://www.theepochtimes.com/analyst-warns-world-has-just-10-weeks-of-wheat-supplies-left-in-storage_4482789.html. Tyler Durden, “Russia to Open Sea Corridors from Ukrainian Ports Amid Wheat Crisis, but Warns of Ukrainian Mines”, ZeroHedge, May 26, 2022, https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitic/russia-open-sea-corridors-ukraine-ports-amid-wheat-crisis-warns-ukrainian-mines.

[3] Elena Vasilieva and Levin Flacke, “A Review of the Capacities of Russian Grain Ports and

Transportation,” GAIN Report, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, No. RS1149, Nov. 3, 2011, at https://apps.fas.usda.gov/newgainapi/api/report/downloadreportbyfilename?filename=Overview%20of%20Russian%20Grain%20Port%20Capacity%20and%20Transportation_Moscow_Russian%20Federation_11-3-2011.pdf. Levin Flacke, “Update on Capacity and Transportation of Russian Grain Ports,” GAIN Report, RS1352, August 16, 2013, https://apps.fas.usda.gov/newgainapi/api/report/downloadreportbyfilename?filename=Overview%20of%20Russian%20Grain%20Port%20Capacity%20and%20Transportation_Moscow_Russian%20Federation_11-3-2011.pdf.

[4] Jason Lancaster, Access Denial Prevention Strategy for Ukraine, CIMSEC, April 12, 2022, https://cimsec.org/an-anti-access-denial-strategy-for-ukraine/.

[5] http://www.hisutton.com/images/Russia-Ukraine-Amphibious-Landings.jpg.

[6] “Ukrainian Forces Lay Mine Near Foreign Ships Moored in Mariupol Port – Defense Ministry”, TASS, April 11, 2022, https://tass.com/defense/1435471.

[7] “Russian Senior Leadership Confirms Mariupol Seaport Cleared of Mines and Working Again,” TASS, May 25, 2022, https://tass.com/defense/1455595?utm_source=tanakanews.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tanakanews.com&utm_referrer= tanakanews.com. “Safe passage through the Sea of ​​Azov – Russia opened”, RT, May 26, 2022, https://www.rt.com/russia/556121-azov-sea-safe-passage/.

[8] “Ukraine refuses Russia’s call to clear ports to allow grain shipment”, Pars Today, June 8, 2022, https://parstoday.com/en/about_us.

[9] Durden, op.cit.

[10] “Russia and Turkey Discuss Grain Export Corridor from Ukraine”, Aljazeera, June 7, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/6/7/russia-turkey-discuss-grain-exports-corridor-from-ukraine.

[11] “Putin says Russia’s big grain harvest will support export growth”, Reuters, May 12, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/putin-says-large-russian-grain-harvest-support-higher-exports-2022-05-12/.

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