Monday, August 15, 2022
Aug. 15, 2022

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Rubin: Putin’s latest war crime: Starving world’s poor

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You may think you’ve seen every horror in Russia’s kit of war crimes against Ukraine (short of weapons of mass destruction).

You haven’t.

Moscow is blockading (or destroying) Ukraine’s port cities on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea and preventing them from exporting grain. This has created a global food crisis.

With a level of cynicism that makes Machiavelli look angelic, Vladimir Putin is trying to turn a made-in-Moscow food disaster into a weapon. He is blackmailing the West to drop sanctions — or concede Russian domination over all Ukrainian ports, including Odesa — in return for Russia’s ending its blockade.

Neither NATO members, nor the United Nations, should permit Putin to profit from starving the world’s poor who depend on Ukrainian grain exports. The White House needs to focus on how to break Putin’s blockade — now.

On Monday, at a U.N. Security Council meeting, the European Council’s president Charles Michel blamed Russia for using the blockade as “a stealth missile against developing countries.” Last week, Russian missiles deliberately destroyed Ukraine’s second-biggest grain storage facility in the city of Mykolaiv, while Russian bombs and mines are preventing farmers from planting and harvesting.

“This is driving up food prices, pushing people into poverty, and destabilizing entire regions,” Michel said. The fallout affects both Africa and the Middle East, which are heavily dependent on Ukrainian wheat.

So what is Putin’s game in trying to starve much of the world?

For starters, Putin is trying to put the blame for the food crisis on Ukraine and on Western sanctions. Nonsense.

If Russia hadn’t launched its unprovoked attack on Ukraine and closed off Ukraine’s coast with its warships, Kyiv’s exports would be flowing. Moreover, Russia’s grain exports — also critical to world supplies — are not sanctioned, and can still exit from Russian ports on the Baltic Sea and on the Pacific.

The Kremlin is also using the blockade to try to blackmail the West into accepting its control over Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

Playing savior (from the crisis he created), Putin has proposed that Ukraine hand over its grain to the Russians, who will export it from occupied Mariupol. Obviously, it is a nonstarter to reward the thief for marketing stolen goods.

Putin has made an even more outrageous proposal. If Ukraine demines its coast — removing a key defense of its shoreline — the Russian naval forces will permit grain exports to leave Odesa.

In other words, Putin says the world should recognize Russian control of the Black Sea, which grossly violates international law and threatens the economic survival of Ukraine.

“While Russian warships in the Black Sea are loaded with missiles, it is very dangerous to open Ukrainian waters for them,” I was told by Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya. If Ukrainian mines are disabled, he said, “Russia could use this as an excuse even to land” on Ukrainian shores.

And — this is very important — the U.S. and European allies would have to finally deliver the anti-ship missiles that Odesa needs to hold off any Russian attack.

Time is of the essence. “July is a red line in the south of the Odesa region,” I was told by phone by Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian parliament member from Odesa. “The harvest starts in July, and by the end of the month, there will be a big problem for grain storage. The farmers have grain but they can’t sell it.” Left unstored, grain will rot.

Putin must not be allowed to succeed in his latest war crime. The time to break the Russian blockade of grain shipments from Odesa is now.

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