President Joe Biden on Tuesday personally accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to “starve the world” — the most direct and public indictment from the U.S. for Moscow’s role in weaponizing global hunger amid its war in Ukraine.
U.S. and European officials, since Russia’s invasion, have accused Russia of weaponizing food from both inside Ukraine and across the world. Moscow has blockaded key trade routes and held back critical supplies from the world markets that have sent food and fertilizer prices skyrocketing — ultimately benefiting Russia as a rival food exporter. But Biden’s decision to call out the Russian president by name during a speech in Poland for his role in exacerbating the growing world food crisis shows his increasing willingness to directly confront Putin as the war approaches the one-year mark, and while Russia tries to convince other countries that the U.S. is to blame for the food crisis.
“Putin tried to starve the world, blocking the ports in the Black Sea to stop Ukraine from exporting its grain — exacerbating the global food crisis that hit developing nations in Africa especially hard,” Biden said to the crowd gathered in Warsaw.
In addition to Russia deliberately targeting agricultural infrastructure inside Ukraine, the fallout of the war has hit dozens of African nations especially hard — driving up the cost of bread and food staples for vulnerable populations already reeling from long-running drought and the pandemic.
One lifeline to help stabilize global food prices, and get supplies to poorer countries, has been a fragile diplomatic agreement among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations which has allowed a slower flow of key food supplies to leave Ukraine. But that agreement expires March 19, and Russian officials are already raising sanctions relief in exchange for staying in the deal.
That’s something U.S. officials and lawmakers have dismissed, citing Russia’s ongoing attacks in Ukraine — which the U.S. in recent days labeled “crimes against humanity.”
“Sanctions lifting should not be on the table given the continued, prolific attacks against Ukrainians,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. “I hope [the deal is] continued but we can’t let the pressure up on Russia.”