Putin is playing a game of food blackmail. The West can’t let him win

Russia's attacks Tuesday destroyed most storage facilities for sunflower oil and grain. Putin's message: If the world doesn’t pay his price, he is willing to starve poor nations.



July 21, 2023 - 5:28 PM

Ukrainian rescuers work at a destroyed administrative building after a missile strike in the center of Odesa on July 20, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

ODESA, Ukraine — One year ago, just as I arrived in this historic port city, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to stop blockading Ukraine’s grain exports and fueling a famine in Africa and the Middle East.

The day after signing the U.N.-brokered deal, Russians shelled Odesa’s port facilities, as if to warn: “Don’t think this deal protects you.”

Exactly one year later, I returned to Odesa just as Russia pulled out of the deal, once again threatening global food supplies. Putin is playing a game of food blackmail, trying to get Western countries to loosen sanctions on certain Russian banks if they want the Ukrainian grain to start flowing again. Canada rightly called the renewed blockade “the weaponization of hunger by the Russian Federation.”

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