OPINION | Katja Keul and Niels Annen: Russia is using hunger as instrument of war

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A poster calling for the end of the Russian war in Ukraine outside the Ukrainian embassy in Pretoria (James de Villiers, News24)
A poster calling for the end of the Russian war in Ukraine outside the Ukrainian embassy in Pretoria (James de Villiers, News24)

It is in our common interest to ensure that President Putin's war of aggression does not cause more suffering, hunger and crises than it has so far, writes the German government's Katja Keul and Niels Annen

All around the world, prices for food are soaring and reaching levels we have not seen in over a decade. Droughts, storms and the high cost of energy have already led to drastic price increases over the past year. When it comes to current record-level food prices, responsibility lies with one man alone: Vladimir Putin.

The Russian president is waging an arbitrary war of aggression against Ukraine. His military is bombing residential buildings and maternity hospitals - killing men, women and children. His war of aggression is also making people around the world go hungry, because Ukraine is one of the world's most important breadbaskets.

The Russian army is purposefully targeting grain silos, tractors and fields. Ukrainian farmers are unable to plant their crops due to the war. Hunger is being used as an instrument of war. In February, Russia halted the export of many types of grain.

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As a result, the war in Ukraine may also destroy livelihoods on the African continent, in the Arab world and in other regions that import a large share of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia - through ports in which ships can now no longer dock. Since the beginning of the war, the global price of wheat has increased by one third, and the already high cost of fertiliser has risen even more sharply.

Russia claims that European sanctions on Moscow have caused the increase in the price of wheat. The reality is that not a single sanction is directed at food shipments. Europe and the West have reacted to President Putin's war of aggression by imposing targeted sanctions against those in Moscow who have drawn up the plans for this destruction.

We do not want war - neither this, nor any other war.

What happens in one part of the world affect others 

Because we believe in the vow that the international community made in the Charter of the United Nations: Reaffirming the "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small".

Many people in Russia, as well, do not want this war. And President Putin knows this. That is exactly why he decreed that this war may not be called a war in his country.

What happens in one part of the world has a direct impact on other parts. Consequently, we must assume responsibility for each other, as a global community. This holds true for the climate crisis, which we can only overcome by acting in concert. And it holds just as true for this war.

President Putin's war of aggression is not a purely European or Western affair. It affects us all - by undermining international law, which makes our world a less safe place, and by driving up prices for wheat, which creates more hunger, suffering and instability across the globe.

Remaining neutral is not an answer - but rather a luxury that causes hunger.

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We, for our part, will do everything in our power to keep President Putin's war from imposing suffering on more innocent people. For one thing, we will continue to advocate for open and transparent global trade, so that food that is available can be distributed equitably. Because hoarding and halting exports - even though this is understandable in individual cases - make the situation worse for everyone.

Germany also continues to take direct action to mitigate hunger and malnourishment around the world. We are the second-largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the World Food Programme. In recent years, we have invested approximately two billion euro annually in food security and rural development. Now, too, we will do our utmost to weaken the effects of this wheat war.

It is in our common interest to ensure that President Putin's war of aggression does not cause more suffering, hunger and crises than it has so far. To succeed in this endeavour, we must stand together.

- Katja Keul is the German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and Niels Annen is the parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

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