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Russia Could 'Blackmail' World Amid Global Food Crisis, Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Warns

By Irina Romaliiska May 21, 2022

Ukraine's top presidential adviser has warned that Russia is deliberately aiming to "kill the potential" of his country and "blackmail" the world by destroying Ukraine's agricultural sector and blockading its Black Sea ports in order to worsen an evolving global food crisis.

"Russia is not just ideologically trying to fight against Ukraine, Russia is also destroying our export infrastructure [for grain]," Mykhaylo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy,told Current Time, the Russian-language channel run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, in a May 21 interview. "One of the initial [Russian] goals for the war was, among other things, to strike at this infrastructure [and] kill the potential of Ukraine."

The global ripple effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine are being felt far and wide, with the country's ravaged agricultural industry causing shortages of staples such as wheat, sunflower oil, and corn. Blockades by Russian ships and naval mines have also left Ukrainian grain stuck in makeshift silos across the country and particularly in port cities like Odesa, which are along the main export route in the Black Sea.

As the war's disruptions have led to surging prices and raised fears of food shortages in parts of the developing world, the UN World Food Program has asked Moscow to unblock Ukrainian ports in order to get Ukrainian agricultural products to market. In response, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said on May 19 that the ports could only be unblocked if Western sanctions against Russia were lifted.

Podolyak, who is also the lead Ukrainian negotiator with Russia, warned against countries bowing to Russian pressure, saying that it would only lead to new demands and more bloodshed in Ukraine.

"Russia is constantly raising the stakes," Podolyak said. "If you go along with Russia by lifting part of the sanctions, for example, then in the end Russia will continue to escalate the conflict in Ukraine and continue to set more conditions."

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of trying to destroy its agriculture sector by stealing valuable grain stocks and machinery, deliberately bombing farms and warehouses, and blockading ports in an effort to limit its export earnings and further hurt its war-ravaged economy.

Western governments and international organizations have also warned about the war's impact on global food security and that the world is approaching a tipping point into crisis.

Russia and Ukraine account for roughly 25 to 30 percent of global wheat exports and Russia, whose supplies have been restricted and limited, is the world's top exporter of fertilizer and a vital amount of the world's wheat, corn, and barley.

In addition to food scarcity and rising prices, simultaneous shortages due to soaring gas prices and farmers struggling to find fertilizer to grow new crops are compounding the crisis.

The Wall Street Journal reported on May 16 that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pursuing a deal with Russia for Moscow to allow a portion of Ukrainian grain shipments to be released in exchange for moves to ease Russian and Belarusian exports of potash fertilizer, which are currently curbed by sanctions.

"Russia has constantly blackmailed the world with the fact that if you do not agree to some of their demands, then they will use force," Podolyak said. "As a result, [the world] makes concessions and Russia constantly raises the stakes."

Written by Reid Standish in Prague based on reporting by Irina Romaliiska

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-podolyak-russia- grain-blackmail/31861505.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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