WHAT KREMLIN PROPAGANDISTS SAY:
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 sparked unprecedented increases in food and fuel prices, triggering global supply chain issues and placing millions of people in developing nations at risk of famine. The halting of maritime grain shipments from Ukraine at the outset of the war caused global supply chain shortages due to Ukraine’s role as a leading agriculture exporter, responsible for supplying more than 45 million tonnes of grain annually to the global market. This blockade was addressed through the, now suspended, Black Sea Grain Initiative. This agreement, signed in July 2022, provided the basis for the safe export of grain from select ports in the Black Sea in an attempt to address the food crisis.
Unsurprisingly, the global food crisis has been a recurring theme in Russian disinformation about the war in Ukraine. Debunk.org has closely monitored the emergence of the disinformation narrative which suggests that ‘Ukraine is responsible for the global food crisis’. Kremlin propagandists have continuously sought to place the blame for the food crisis on Ukraine, falsely claiming that it has failed to export its produce to the countries most in need, such as African nations. Pro-Kremlin media outlets highlight the proportion of grain which has been funnelled to the EU, rather than more deserving nations. In a public speech, Putin criticised the Black Sea Grain Agreement, accusing Ukraine of not using the deal to address the Humanitarian crisis, claiming “only five per cent went to the world's poorest countries.”
The disinformation narrative also draws on the familiar Kremlin theme of corruption within Ukraine’s leadership. These conspiratorial claims suggest that Ukraine is providing grain to the EU as a form of ‘payment’ in exchange for the provision of military aid. Vasyl Nebenzya, Russia's envoy to the UN stated "As far as we understand, Ukraine is paying for the weapons supplied by the West". Propagandists argue that Ukraine is redirecting food supplies from those most in need, in order to serve the West, which they claim is benefitting from the conflict. Citing maritime shipments of grain from Ukraine to the EU, under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Vladimir Putin stated: “Are they the poorest nations or what? The situation remains the same. Embarrassing as it sounds, but this is plain swindle, and nothing else”.
WHAT ARE THE FACTS:
Russia is solely responsible for the emergence of the global food crisis, which was triggered by the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. At the outset of the war, Russia imposed a naval blockade on Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, causing immediate disruption to the global supply chains. By September 2022, an estimated 15.7% of Ukraine’s crop storage facilities had been impacted by the conflict, with facilities seized, destroyed or damaged by Russian Armed Forces. Kremlin propagandists seek to shift the responsibility for the global fallout of the crisis onto Ukraine and deny their role in destroying or impeding the shipment of essential produce to the world.
Claims that the majority of Ukrainian grain exports are going to the European Union, instead of developing nations are unfounded. As of July 2023, the UN Black Sea Grain Initiative database, which tracks all vessel movements under the agreement, reveals that 57% of exports have been to developing countries. Kremlin propagandists obscure the fact that much of the produce which is received by the EU or developed nations is often redistributed to its final destination, or processed for export. In reality, the Black Sea Grain Initiative allowed Ukraine to export almost 33 million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs, easing the pressure on global supply chains sparked by Putin’s illegal invasion and enabling the delivery of humanitarian aid to developing nations.
There is no evidence to suggest that Ukraine is selling grain to the EU in exchange for military aid. Kremlin propagandists seek to weave a familiar narrative of corruption within the Ukrainian government throughout many of their disinformation narratives, these claims are unsubstantiated. Under Article 51 of the UN Charter, Ukraine has a right to defend itself and restore its internationally recognised borders, including Crimea and Donbas. The provision of military aid from Ukraine’s allies directly acknowledges this right.
By spreading disinformation narratives about Ukrainian trade exports, Kremlin propagandists seek to prepare the ground for Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The context surrounding this narrative is critical, as it first emerged, in July 2022, around the the signing of the initial deal, and again ahead of Russia’s withdrawal from the scheme. By fabricating claims of corruption, and twisting statistics in the name of humanitarian concern, pro-Kremlin sources attempt to place the responsibility for the collapse of the agreement and the wider food crisis with Ukraine and the West. In reality, Russia is solely responsible for the emergence of the global food crisis, which was sparked by their unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Debunker is a series of disinformation-busting articles from Debunk.org which focus on dispelling the harmful lies and propaganda being pushed by pro-Kremlin sources. Check out the rest of the series at debunk.org/debunker.