A harsh accusation has been circulating since the attack on Ukraine: “Putin is using hunger as a weapon.” In Germany, for example, Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) regularly repeats this accusation – for example at the G-7 agriculture ministers’ meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart.
In fact, there is little evidence to support the accusation that Russia is deliberately fomenting famine as part of its war strategy. Yes, Ukraine can hardly export grain because its ports are closed. But that clearly appears to be collateral damage from the country’s blockade, not the primary objective of Russian naval operations.
Because Russia has expanded its own exports since the beginning of the war. Current satellite images also apparently show the removal of grain from the occupied territories. Ukrainian agricultural companies have been complaining for a long time that the occupiers did not pay a reasonable price for it.
In doing so, Russia is harming Ukrainian agriculture, but it is increasing the amount of wheat on the world market – and cynically benefiting from the increased grain price that the war it has triggered is driving it.
Even free Ukraine itself cannot starve Russia. After all, the problem there is not scarcity. Instead, there is too much grain stored that cannot be exported.
However, the war damage and attacks on agricultural businesses and infrastructure are likely to mean that last year’s harvest record will not be repeated any time soon.
Of course, this weighs heavily on world trade in wheat. The rapidly rising world market price shows that many market participants are expecting bottlenecks in the future.
It also makes the necessary imports difficult to afford for many countries in Africa and the Middle East. The World Food Program faces a major challenge.
And yet the accusation that the Kremlin used hunger as a weapon in the war has not been proven. Almost all indications point to the fact that the leadership unscrupulously accepts starvation as a result of the attack, but does not use it specifically to weaken Ukraine or allies or to unleash destabilizing waves of refugees towards Europe.
The claim that the Kremlin uses hunger as a weapon is therefore pure speculation, even a conspiracy theory. It is powerful because it is reminiscent of the man-made famine in Ukraine in the 1930s.
The root cause of this “holodomor” from the Stalin era is disputed: some historians see it as a deliberate attempt by Moscow to break Ukrainian nationalism.
Given today’s real world war crimes, such a rhetorical recourse to Soviet history is unnecessary. Imprecise and unnecessarily exaggerated accusations damage the credibility of the West and thus the cause of Ukraine. They will also make it more difficult to come to terms with what happened and blame those who are guilty in a post-Putin era.
Politicians like Özdemir should describe soberly what is happening – but not spin a theory that they cannot convincingly prove even when asked. The phrase “hunger as a weapon” should no longer be used for the time being.
Because what is happening in the war of aggression, which violates international law, is bad enough in itself to completely discredit the actions of the Kremlin.
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