The European Union blames Vladimir Putin for the fact that “millions of people” cannot “heat their homes or feed their children” due to the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is what the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, have done in two speeches in the European Parliament in a debate to account for the last summit of EU leaders.
“Russia is using food as a weapon of war”, said Michel: “It is stealing cereals, blocking the ports, there are millions of tons of cereals blocked, causing world famine. It is the Russians who block the ports, and our sanctions are not on agricultural products. Let no one be fooled by the Kremlin’s propaganda.”
Michel explained: “We have achieved a unique agreement on oil, and it will be extended to pipeline oil soon. Ukraine needs money, 9,000 million in aid, and also in reconstruction. Russia is brutally destroying Ukraine, it is the aggressor and they have to pay to rebuild the country, so we are looking at the possibility of confiscating assets to help rebuild.”
“It is necessary to reinforce our defense”, said Michel, “and for this we need to buy coordinates. If we want to be a geopolitical power, we have to act like one.”
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine resonates around the world. It is about the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world who fear they cannot afford to heat their homes or feed their children. The numbers are compelling. This year alone, some 275 million people are likely to be at least at high risk of food insecurity globally. And in an inflationary world, that risk and those numbers can quickly spiral out of control. As it is, many families in parts of sub-Saharan Africa already spend close to half of their income on food.”
Von der Leyen has given more data: “It is not surprising that the World Bank has estimated that 10 million people are pushed into extreme poverty for each percentage point increase in food prices. We are facing a crisis that will exacerbate food insecurity and debt distress around the world. Some of these issues are legacy of the pandemic and issues related to the costs of living, such as rising energy prices that have pushed up the costs of fertilizers or the transportation of exports. Others are more long-term and structural, such as the effects of extreme weather events linked to climate change. But whether cyclical or structural, all of these shocks have one thing in common. They are massively and deliberately aggravated by Putin’s actions.”
“Food has become part of the Kremlin’s arsenal of terror,” von der Leyen has said: “It’s the only way to describe Russia’s bombing of grain storage facilities and its blockade of Ukrainian ports, and in some cases even the theft, of some 20 million tons of grain currently trapped in Ukraine. And it is our duty to dismantle Russian disinformation. Let’s be very clear: while Russia actively uses hunger as a weapon, EU sanctions are carefully designed to avoid a negative impact. And they provide a clear exemption for food products. Our sanctions do not affect basic food products. They do not affect trade in grain or other food between Russia and third countries.”
To counteract this, von der Leyen has opted to “keep markets open so trade can continue to flow”, “working hard to provide an alternative way for grain blocked in Ukraine to reach the market as quickly as possible”.
“But the world needs to get Ukraine’s Black Sea ports back up and running,” she said: “And I am very grateful to the United Nations for their efforts. The second area is solidarity and support for partners. This is short-term support for countries at higher risk. For example, we are now investing an additional €225 million to address the short- and medium-term needs of the Southern Neighborhood partners.”
“The third area of response”, said the President of the European Commission, “is to invest in making local production more sustainable and resilient. To this end, the EU budget has already earmarked €3 billion to invest in agriculture and nutrition, water and sanitation programmes. But it is clear that we will have to do more. And we will have to move faster. For this reason, the Commission has proposed to the Member States the possibility of mobilizing 600 million euros of funds released from the European Development Fund”.