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Russia’s Disinformation Cannot Hide its Responsibility for the Global Food Crisis
June 22, 2022

“As with its decision to start this unjustified war, responsibility for the disruption of these supplies and the suffering that it’s causing around the world lies squarely and solely with the Russian Government.”

Lying to the World About Global Food Security

Russian President Putin’s illegal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has had catastrophic effects  on Ukraine, its neighbors, and people across the globe. The Kremlin’s war in Ukraine has wreaked death and destruction, killing thousands of civilians , displacing millions , making refugees of millions more, and massively damaging civilian infrastructure . The devastating effects of Russia’s aggression have disrupted Ukraine’s economy , which in turn has exacerbated global food insecurity. Ukraine has long been the “breadbasket of Europe, feeding  millions of people across the globe. It is a top grain supplier to dozens of African and Middle Eastern countries. Now, after Russia’s February 24 all out invasion, Ukraine has turned “from a breadbasket to a breadline, ” while the Russian government uses disinformation to mislead the world about the cause of this crisis.

Food insecurity has risen because of Putin’s war of choice. It was not caused, as the Kremlin claims, by sanctions  that the United States and many other countries have imposed in response to Russia’s horrific aggression against Ukraine. Food insecurity was rising before the invasion, and Putin’s war exacerbated that trend. Russia mined  Ukrainian grain fields, attacked  merchant shipping on the Black Sea, and blocked  Ukrainians from exporting their own grain. Russia is also plundering Ukrainian grain for its own profit, pilfering  grain from Ukrainian warehouses according to credible reports. All these actions have worsened food insecurity around the world.

Conversely, the United States and its partners have taken great care to avoid exacerbating food insecurity. U.S. sanctions, for example, are specifically written to prevent food insecurity: they include carveouts for agricultural commodities  and permit transactions for the export and re-export of food to and from Russia, even with a sanctioned individual or entity. Moreover, the United States has pledged  $2.6 billion this year in humanitarian food assistance to help alleviate world hunger, with an added $5 billion to be added over the next five years.

The Kremlin’s Blame Game and What it Hopes to Accomplish

Russia’s government officials, Russian state-funded media, and Kremlin-aligned proxy disinformation actors are attempting to deflect attention  from Russia’s responsibility for worsening global food insecurity by blaming sanctions, “the West,” and Ukraine. In fact, the Kremlin and its proxies’ massive disinformation campaign is heavily targeting  the crisis’s most heavily impacted regions – the Middle East and Africa. These false narratives are amplified by Kremlin-controlled state outlets such as RT Arabic  and RT en Francais , as well as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) state media .

As it has with past false narratives about bioweapons in Ukraine , the Russian government’s top diplomats and its embassies spread disinformation, often concentrating on African and Middle Eastern audiences.  Some recent false claims include:

  • Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain “Western and Ukrainian disinformation .”
  • In his May 19 United Nations Security Council speech on conflict and food security, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vasiliy Nebenzya accused Europe of “hoarding” Ukrainian grain and engaging in “grain for weapons ” exchanges with Kyiv.
  • Russia’s embassy in Egypt blamed “illegal unilateral sanctions ,” while Russia’s embassy in Zimbabwe claimed “Western interference ” in the Global South.
  • In his May 25 Africa Day speech, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attempted  to de-legitimize Ukraine and urged African ambassadors in Moscow to demand the removal of “illegal, anti-Russian” sanctions in order to strengthen food security.
  • OneWorld , a website with ties to Russia’s military intelligence, according  to U.S. officials, echoed Lavrov’s claims, accusing President Zelenskyy of supporting a U.S.-led “global food cartel ” that will wield control over global food supply as a “new hybrid weapon ” against the Global South.
  • In his May 26 interview with RT Arabic, Foreign Minister Lavrov accused  the West of neo-colonialism and of blackmailing African and Arab countries to join “anti-Russia” sanctions, in a bid to build solidarity against what Russia’s propaganda calls the “imperial West .”

This disinformation is intended to both hide Russia’s culpability and persuade leaders of at-risk countries to support an end to sanctions designed to stop Russia’s unjust and brutal war in Ukraine.

Conclusion: Where the Blame Really Lies

The Russian government’s attempts to deflect responsibility  for its actions by blaming others for the worsening crisis in the global food system are reprehensible. This crisis is keenly felt in many Middle Eastern and African countries that import at least half of their wheat from Ukraine. According to World Food Program, millions of people are at risk  of famine and malnutrition in these regions, as Putin’s reckless war increases the price of bread, taking money from the pockets of the most vulnerable families. “Russia is solely responsible for this food crisis … despite the Kremlin’s campaign of lies and disinformation,” said  European Council president Charles Michel as Russia’s UN Ambassador Nebenzya stormed out of  a June 6, 2022, UN Security Council meeting.

The Russian government continues spreading disinformation about its unjustified war’s disastrous consequences, including global food insecurity. The Russian government should stop weaponizing food  and allow Ukraine to safely ship out its grain so that millions of hungry people in the Middle East and Africa can be fed.