By Neelam Rahim
US President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that temporary silos would be built along the border with Ukraine, including Poland, to help export more grain and address a growing global food crisis, described as Vladimir Putin’s ‘hunger plan’.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Ukraine is also a significant corn and sunflower oil exporter, and Russia is a crucial fertilizer exporter.
Since the Russian invasion and blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, grain shipments have stalled, and more than 20 million tonnes are stuck in silos. Ukraine says it faces a shortage of silos for a new crop.
The war has fuelled soaring prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer, which may lead to starvation in the developing world, which relies on Ukrainian grains.
‘Russia is planning to starve Asians and Africans in order to win its war in Europe,’ Yale historian and author Timothy Snyder said.
“I’m working closely with our European partners to get 20 million tons of grain locked in Ukraine out onto the market to help bring down food prices,” Biden told a Philadelphia union convention. “It can’t get out through the Black Sea because it’ll get blown out of the water.”
Since the war started, Ukraine and Russia have laid sea mines. Some 84 foreign ships are stuck in Ukrainian ports – many with grain cargoes on board.
Biden said Washington was developing a plan to get grain out by rail but noted Ukrainian track gauges were different from those in Europe, so the grain had to be transferred to other trains at the border.
Grain could be transferred from Ukrainian railway cars into the new silos and then onto European freight cars to ‘get it out to the ocean and get it across the world,’ he said, adding the plan was taking time.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is trying to broker what he calls a “package deal” to resume Ukrainian Black Sea exports and Russian food and fertilizer exports, which Moscow says had been impacted by western sanctions.
The UN has so far described talks with Russia as “constructive.”