Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UN Security Council open debate "Conflict and food security"
We welcome Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, FAO Director General Qu Dongyu and WFP Executive Director David Beasley to this meeting and thank them for the briefings. We also note the high level of representation at this debate.
Present-day political culture of Western states is best characterized by a striving to blame Russia for everything. After we started a special military operation in Ukraine, the allegations against Moscow have made a “quantum leap”. Among them, allegations related to food security assumed a leading role.
This meeting is a clear confirmation of this fact. From what you say, Russia wants to starve everyone to death, while all you and Ukrainians care about is saving lives of those who are starving. A nice picture, though absolutely deceitful.
Let’s recall that threat of a global food crisis did not emerge as recently as this year. David Beasley, who is present here today, warned about a possibility of famines "of biblical proportions" and a “perfect storm” back in 2020. At that point, 155 million people in 55 countries were facing critical threats to food security. Among the reasons that D.Beasley cited were conflicts, extreme weather phenomena, and economic perturbations.
We regret that our colleagues, Western UNSC members, did not have enough courage to comment on the root causes of food and other crises in such states as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria.
As of today, the number of starving people is estimated to stand at 193 million. When speaking on behalf of the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance on 10 May, Secretary-General of UNCTAD Rebeca Grynspan said that there is no problem of a physical deficit of food in the world, and that it is all about food distribution systems. Experts of the grain market also cite the factor of price swings, and there is nothing new about it. As reported by stock markets, the rate of growth of wheat prices in 2021 stood at 25 %. By February this year, the prices were more than 60 % higher that the five-year average.
Among the reasons that triggered this situation, leading experts point out such consequences of COVID-19 pandemic as interruptions in supply chains, growing freight and insurance charges. Steep increase of anti-crisis financial injections in economy also played a role. Thus, the United States, European Union, and Japan jointly spent more than 8 trillion dollars on that, which dispersed the demand and whipped up inflation. Add to this all previously started trade wars and lasting contradictions with regard to agricultural market regulations. As a result, food supplies turned out to stand at their lowest in recent 5-10 years, which kicked up food prices and related costs. At the same time, Western states drew over all commodity flows, which aggravated the already complicated situation of import-dependent developing countries.
An important factor is the leap over to green energy that is being imposed on the entire world instead of a thoroughly considered smooth energy transition, to say nothing of straight-up politicizing of energy cooperation by some states. As a result, energy projects were abandoned recklessly and energy prices spiked. In 2020-2022 oil prices increased by more than 22 %, affecting fuel for farm machinery and agricultural carriers, as well as electricity for food industry. Gas price also went record high – in December 2021 gas spot price reached a psychological benchmark of 2,000 dollars for a thousand cubic meters, even though Russia enhanced deliveries. This led up to an unprecedented increase of prices for mineral fertilizers in December 2021: carbamide and saltpeter prices multiplied by 3.5-4, prices for other fertilizers increased two- or threefold. If fertilizer prices grow, the cost of grain also increases. Speculations at Western futures markets of foodstuffs add to the problem, because it also boosts commodity prices, i.a. for wheat, corn, and pulse crops. Besides, we should not forget about unfavorable weather conditions in recent years, e.g. in the US, Canada, Australia, France. As you can see, none of these key factors that laid the groundwork for the current situation at agricultural markets can be blamed on Russia.
Nonetheless, statements that our Western colleagues made today did not mention any of these. Of course, they also omitted unilateral economic sanctions that are suffocating a whole range of states. All of them were talking about one and the same thing, repeated in a multitude of ways: it is the Russian special military operation in Ukraine that allegedly threatens the world with famine. Whatever happened before the SMO and what I have just spoke of seems negligible to them. According to their logic, none of it plays any role. It is clear that this slyness can only influence the unsuspecting public, but not serious experts.
Truth is that you got too carried away by your fruitless efforts to “break the backbone” of Russian economy and isolate our country at any cost. I am not speaking about the unescapable devastating consequences for your economies. After all, we can do nothing with this obsessive desire of yours to shoot yourselves in the leg, or rather both legs. This policy will have a bearing on your domestic markets, which you will then have to explain to your taxpayers and voters. What I am speaking about is that in your proxy war with Russia in Ukraine, you are literally holding the whole developing world as hostage, driving it towards famine. Whatever you may be saying, it is you and only you who can change this. I will explain why.
You say that we allegedly block opportunities for exporting agricultural products from Ukraine by sea. Truth is however that it is Ukraine and not Russia who has blocked 75 vessels from 17 states in the ports of Nikolaev, Kherson, Chernomorsk, Mariupol, Ochakov, Odessa, and Yuzhniy and has mined the waterways. How can we be talking about grain exports? Russia's armed forces daily open a humanitarian corridor, which is a safe passageway for vessels leading in the south-western direction from Ukraine’s territorial waters. As for Kiev, it evades interacting with foreign states who operate those vessels to solve the issue of their safe exit to the rendezvous area. There are still risks for navigation and related infrastructure posed by unanchored mines floating along the coasts of Black Sea states. Russia takes all measures to ensure safety of civil navigation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. We daily forward this information i.a. to the United Nations leadership. As you see, Ukraine takes no such efforts. It is clear that unless this issue is resolved, we cannot speak of any opportunities to export Ukrainian grain by sea.
In these circumstances, deliveries of agricultural products and fertilizers from Russia and Belarus could play a positive role. However our exports encounter another problem that Western states created artificially. I mean the illegal unilateral coercive measures that they imposed on our two states. UCMs affected the area of agriculture even before the recent events in Ukraine. But after 24 February 2022 a true mayhem began. More than 10,000 sanctions were imposed on Russia alone. They disrupted transportation routes, impeded movement of Russian vessels and banned them from entering ports, caused problems with freight and insurance, restricted international commercial transactions – to name a few. Thereby difficulties with banking transactions hit not only most vulnerable private importers, but also humanitarian agencies. UN World Food Program is said to have experienced this. To say nothing of Western sanctions-related threats to our energy sector that keep destabilizing the markets.
You should rather not refer to so-called exemptions that emerged due to dependence of Western agricultural operators on Russian and Belarusian fertilizers. Terrified by Western governments, banks and companies still have to over-comply restrictions, which either delays or undermines transactions. International experts, including analysts from FAO, see other sanctions-related risks, including potential difficulties with deliveries of goods related to agricultural production to Russia, which threatens to affect future crops.
Nevertheless, let me assure you that Russia remains a responsible supplier of both food and energy. Secretary Blinken today cited Deputy Head of Russia’s Security Council D.Medvedev, but distorted the essence of his words. He omitted that Mr.Medvedev had spoken about not delivering food to unfriendly states, who recently introduced sanctions against us. There are no such states among those who are exposed to food insecurity. Those are our friends, to whom, as Mr.Medvedev said, we will keep delivering food. This year we expect record crops of wheat. In this regard, starting from 1 August and until the end of the year, we can offer to export 25 million tons of grain through the Novorossiysk port. We are ready to discuss other procurement, i.a with a view to the fact that from June to December the potential for fertilizer exports will be no less than 22 million tons. But if you do not want to lift your sanctions of choice, why do you blame us for the food crisis? Why must poorest countries and regions suffer from those irresponsible geopolitical games of yours? In these circumstances, ungrounded attempts to shift the blame to us are not only absurd, but also obnoxious. Let me ask David Beasley, how things are going with WFP procurement of Russian food and its deliveries to the countries in need in the context of the sanctions?
I cannot fail to address the issue of Ukrainian grain. According to Ukrainian media, before the special military operation, Ukraine fulfilled 60-90 % of its potential for the marketing year of 2021/2022 depending on the crop. Thereby most part of food-grade wheat, appr.13 million tons, was transported abroad at the end of 2021, which, as reported by Ukrainian media, made it scarce back at home and kicked up bread prices. Corn supplies must be larger, but corn is mostly sold to the European Union that purchases more than one third of total stocks, rather than to countries risking food insecurity. In this context, calls by some Western officials to expedite exports of grain from Ukraine are rather startling. For now, I will not address an obvious risk of hunger in that country and leave it to consideration of the authorities in Kiev. But another logical question begs itself: where do these deliveries go to and what do they have to do with ensuring global food security? Let me again turn to David Beasley and ask him whether WFP has facilitated any humanitarian deliveries of Ukrainian grain since February this year? As far as we know, it has not. Nonetheless, judging by what Western politicians and mass media say, grain is being exported from Ukraine at a very high pace, both by railway trains and barges through the Danube. Where does it go to? We have reasonable suspicions that it does not travel to meet the needs of starving people in the global South, but that it rather ends up in European grain storages. As we understand, this is how Ukraine is paying for weapons delivered from the West. History of Ukraine knows a similar episode. In February 1918, upon agreement with the government of its Central Rada, German and Austrian troops entered Ukraine – allegedly to protect it from the Soviet Russia. In return, Kiev obliged to deliver food to Berlin and Vienna, and then dispatched 37,000 rail carriages loaded with food.
I will appreciate if our Western colleagues, first of all the United States and the European Union, today publicly refute this “food for weapons” version which many experts stick to. Also, I invite them to explain how these deliveries actually contribute to global food security that you claim to be so concerned about.
To conclude, let me comment on two points made by Secretary Blinken. He drew some analogy with the siege of Leningrad, and accused Russia of besieging Mariupol and starving its residents. There is lots of evidence by the people of Mariupol who say that Azovs took away their food following an old fascist tradition, whereas our military risked their lives delivering humanitarian aid. But our opponents remain deaf to these arguments.
Lastly, the United States calls to collective action mentioning yesterday’s meeting of some ministers who discussed food crisis. This is very indicative of the US desire to forsake multilateralism and promote coalitions of interests, which would adopt decisions that the United States wants rather than seek much-needed compromise.