• Clarissa Sung

The Russia–Ukraine Grain Deal and Why It Matters


In response to the global food crisis that has emerged as consequence of the Russia–Ukraine War, the two nations reached a pivotal agreement on the exportation of Ukraine grains (Melissa Askew/Unsplash)

The Russia–Ukraine War


On February 24, Russia launched a “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine, igniting a war that would last for over four months and result in thousands of lives lost. This conflict is widely regarded as an extension of an eight-year war between the two powers; in 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, establishing full control over the region. Russia has since backed pro-Russian separatist groups that have engaged in an ongoing conflict with the Ukrainian government known as the War of Donbas (2014–present).


However, the invasion of late February constituted a dramatic escalation described by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as “on a scale and of a type we thought belonged to history.” Since February alone, thousands have been killed, millions more have been displaced, and over one hundred and fifty cultural sites have been destroyed.


Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have ultimately failed, and the war has since devolved into a slowly progressing back-and-forth conflict with no clear end in sight.


The Global Food Crisis


The COVID-19 pandemic, droughts in North America and the Horn of Africa, poor harvests in China and France, and climate change have culminated in a global shortage of food and increase in food prices even prior to the Russia–Ukraine War. For instance, wheat prices alone had risen eighty percent before February.


Rising food prices most heavily affect those in developing nations, with Middle Eastern and African countries notably hit harder. In Yemen, for example, citizens are limited to ever-dwindling rations, and the UN World Food Programme estimates 17.4 million Yemenis are food insecure. The increasing urgency of the global food crisis is putting mounting pressure on world leaders to free up crucial food supplies, such as 20 million tons of grain trapped in Ukraine due to the war.


The Breadbasket of Europe


Ukraine has long been known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” and Russia and Ukraine alone provide over a quarter of the world’s wheat. Both countries are some of the world’s top producers and exporters of agricultural products. This region plays a vital role in the global food supply chain, including supplying fourteen African nations that depend on these countries for one half of their wheat imports.


2021 was a record wheat-producing year for Ukraine, and a reported 20 million tons of grain are currently stored inside the country. In contrast to much of the world, Ukraine has experienced a surplus of agricultural products but is unable to export them due to Russian blockades of vital Black Sea ports, effectively cutting off Ukrainian supply lines. The ports are also blocked by Ukrainian mines intended to prevent an amphibious attack through the Black Sea.


The Russia–Ukraine Grain Deal


The Russia–Ukraine War has inflamed the already urgent global food crisis. For instance, from February to May, wheat prices increased by fifty percent. To solve this predicament, Russia and Ukraine engaged in talks for nearly three months, negotiating the opening of the blockade, which some experts regard as a Russian negotiation tactic in an effort to lift international sanctions. However, the deal is the first publicly signed agreement between the two sides since the beginning of the war, and is regarded by the United Nations as a “beacon of hope” for countries depending on the deal to feed their hungry populations.


Per the agreement, Ukrainian captains will ship the grain out of ports using safe passages to avoid Ukrainian mines, which will not be removed. The ships will be unloaded at Turkish ports and inspected by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, and U.N. inspectors to ensure the ships are not bringing weapons back to Ukraine. The agreement will hold for an initial 120 days, but can be renewed.


Both Russia and Ukraine are expected to benefit from the grain deal. Ukraine will receive desperately needed income from the grain exports and will free up storage facilities to maximize this year’s harvest. Russia is expected to have more success selling its grains and fertilizers, which the U.S. and E.U. have affirmed will not be sanctioned.


Future Implications


However, still-prevalent tensions between the two countries mean the deal is not guaranteed to hold. Though Russia has agreed not to attack parts of ports exporting grains, it did not extend the same promise to facilities not explicitly used for this purpose. Furthermore, the grain will have to be shipped through a war zone, a risky maneuver as the fighting drags on.


Still, the Russia–Ukraine grain deal is, at face value, an unlikely deal between two warring nations intended to aid those affected by the global food shortage. Should it work as intended, grain prices are expected to fall as more supply enters the market, making food more accessible to millions around the world. Immediately following the announcement of the deal alone, wheat prices fell over five percent. Experts are hoping this trend continues, in addition to Russian–Ukrainian cooperation. All in all, the grain deal is an important and influential agreement that merits close observation over the coming months.



 

Clarissa Sung is a junior in high school. She is currently part of her school's dance team and is also competing in equestrian sports. Her favorite academic subjects are history and language arts, and she would like to study political science in the future.