Nations across the world are in danger of famine as 22 million tons of wheat are trapped in Ukrainian ports, depriving them of exports they depend on to feed their populations.
Ukraine’s Black Sea ports were immediately blockaded at the beginning of the Russo-Ukraine war. They are a prime hub for storing and exporting the country’s harvest.
Ukraine is known as the “breadbasket of Europe.” Along with Russia, the region provides more than 30% of the world’s grain. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa also rely heavily on Ukraine’s wheat exports. The region is already suffering from historic food inflation and supply shortages. If the blockade is not resolved soon, the food shortages in Africa could quickly devolve into famine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly stated that they would not stop food shipments coming out of Ukraine’s ports. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that the Russian military has mined the Black Sea waterways.
Putin has stated that he would ensure the exports in exchange for sanctions relief for his country from the West, but the Biden administration has refused to budge, making the situation even more uncertain.
The United States has accused Russia of weaponizing food, and has urged Putin to allow the grain to be transported while the crushing sanctions remain in place.
Time is of the essence. Not only are food supplies in countries that rely on Ukraine’s wheat exports running low, but soon it will be time to harvest the current crops. If exports are not allowed to leave Ukraine, there could be nowhere to store the new crop, putting millions of tons of needed wheat at risk of being wasted.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is using the situation to ask for more sophisticated weaponry to break the blockade. He has requested drones, artillery and anti-ship missiles to be used specifically for the transport of wheat.
There have also been calls for direct U.S. involvement to break the blockade because of the substantial risk of famine to Third World countries. Although U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not outright dismiss the idea, he did warn that it is a very risky strategy.
If the conflict in Ukraine is not resolved soon, it could have dire consequences far beyond the borders of the countries at war.