When Russian tanks rolled across the border into Ukraine on February 23 almost two years ago, everyone in the Polish border town of Wysocki flocked to help where they could.
The farm of Marcin Sobchuk (43), located just 50 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, has become a center for emergency aid funds. For three months, Marcin and other local farmers dropped everything to help nearby residents.
Pictures of the solidarity action are still hanging in the barn. But the mood has shifted.
Marcin now leads the “Bedratte vämsäger” protest movement.
He and many other farmers in Central Europe feel cheated. Ukrainian grains threaten to outperform their own grains.
The huge amounts of grain that Ukraine possesses are causing discord in Europe.
This is exactly what Putin wants.
Why specifically Ukraine's grain exports have something to say for world peace, explains Agri Analyze Managing Director and Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Environmental and Life Sciences (NMBU), Kristian Anton Smedchug.
– There are two things you cannot avoid in the world: energy and food. Little symbolizes this better than grains, which are food for the animals we eat, and directly for us humans, he tells VG.
Smedshaug currently has an updated version of the book Can agriculture feed the world?
He explains that after the massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the importance of Russian agriculture in the global food supply increased.
Because even though Putin's forces have seen little progress on the front line, Russia has been able to consolidate its role as a major source of consequence for the war in Ukraine.
– He explains that you can say that the sleeping agricultural bear has now woken up.
– comment Black Sea Convention Black Sea Convention An agreement was concluded in July 2022 between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations to enable the export of Ukrainian grain and fertilizer via the Black Sea, when Ukraine was at war. The aim of the agreement was to alleviate the global food crisis following the Russian war in Ukraine. Russia withdrew from the agreement in July 2023, accusing the United Nations and Ukraine of violating pledges.The decision to impose sanctions on Ukrainian grain exports in August 2023 has strengthened Russia's role as a global food store. It is an ongoing process since the conflict began in 2014, Smedchoj told VG.
And if you deliver food to the world, you get power.
Grains have become Russia's weapon in its struggle for political influence in the world, as Smedchug sums up, noting how the invasion of Ukraine paved the way:
- Russia reduced Ukrainian grain production.
- Since global demand must be met in other ways, Russia has also increased its production and become more important in the global context.
- In addition, Ukrainian grain is forced to cross the borders of neighboring countries, which leads to a decline in prices there and becomes a seed for conflict between the four countries and the European Commission.
Disagreement in Europe is precisely what Putin wants.
Not surprisingly, the fronts are steep: the fear of global famine was real when exports from Ukraine became difficult almost two years ago.
The European Union felt compelled to open up free grain imports from Ukraine.
Proud agricultural nations, such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, were not afraid of famine. However, there were those who saw Ukrainian grain flowing across the country's borders.
Despite its cheap price, it led to a decline in local grain prices, making it competitive with them in many cases.
At Marcin's farm in E. Wysaukee, a thick white tarp hides 500 tons of last year's corn meters away.
On the neighboring farm, there is a silo full of 1,500 tons of rape that they cannot get rid of.
Not being able to sell grain is something that has never happened to 43-year-old Marcin, who has been a farmer since he was 15.
As incomes halve, the reserves amassed by farmers decline.
-As a farmer, you need stability. You can't suddenly turn off the machines or change the product, says Marcin seriously.
Polish farmers joined farmers across Central Europe in protests. A national ban on the import of Ukrainian grain has been imposed in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia amid strong reactions from the European Union.
The grain conflict quickly became a topic on the international political scene.
When Poland tried to protect its farmers by banning Ukrainian grain imports, the Ukrainian trade official threatened to bring the neighboring country into the World Trade Organization.
This is what prompted Polish President Andrzej Duda to liken Ukraine from the United Nations podium to a man about to drown, dragging the rescuer with him into the depths.
There was an ongoing diplomatic crisis. The news that Poland will no longer send weapons to Ukraine has shocked the world.
– Putin is clearly rubbing his hands and is happy about it, says researcher and director of the Frithjof Nansen Institute, Iver B. Newman for VG.
Expectations in Brussels for a more united European front were high when former EU president Donald Tusk took office as Poland's prime minister in December.
He promised to return Poland to good European company.
But he still retains one thing from previous conservative governors: Grains and other agricultural goods from Ukraine still need to be excluded.
In fact, Tusk criticized his predecessors for not being strict enough in controlling Ukrainian agricultural goods. In a video on Tik Tok He, who is now Poland's prime minister, quotes industry representatives who describe grains as “the biggest waste” and say they are contaminated with insects and bacteria.
While there is controversy in the United Nations and the European Union over Ukrainian grains, which challenge the sale of some member states' crops, Russia has steadily risen in the list of the world's largest wheat producers.
In the three years before the full-scale invasion, Russia alone was able to match North America with production of nearly 80 million tons per year, according to figures from FAO.
Because its population is much smaller than that of North America, much less than half, Russia can export large portions of its crop.
Ukraine's average annual production reached 30 million tons in the same three years.
In the war year of 2023, we see how Ukraine's production has been severely affected by the war, with wheat production almost halved compared to the 2019-2021 average.
On the other hand, Russia continues its expansion and achieved its best wheat crop ever in 2022 with more than 100 million tons. In 2023, the harvest is expected to reach 83 million tons, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
This means that Russia has transformed from an importer of wheat 30 years ago, to the largest exporter in the world in 2023, with exports estimated at 45 million tons, as agricultural researcher Smedchug points out.
When wagons loaded with Ukrainian wheat, corn, sunflower seeds and rapeseed began crossing the border into Poland last summer, Marcin's neighbour, farmer Pyotr Kozma, 48, immediately knew this would cause problems.
Since 1994, the father of four has sacrificed all his free time, plus his half-inch, to farm corn, rapeseed, wheat, sunflowers and sugar beets.
Now he doesn't know if the operation can continue, he told VG in Poland.
– It felt as if your boss came and told you that you have a new colleague, and this person will take over all your tasks, says the farmer.
– What will you plant next year, to make money?, asks VG. For the first time, Piotr burst into a fit of laughter.
-If you have a hole in the jacket, you can sew it back on. You have a gap in the budget…so what do you do?!,” he says in frustration.
The grain dispute shows how Russia has succeeded in dividing Europe, while at the same time boosting its own production and other countries' dependence on Russia, researcher Smedchug tells VG.
Many countries depend on importing large quantities of grains, and the alliance with Russia in the field of food has become increasingly important.
– It causes a shift in geopolitical alliances, and this may be part of the reason behind the insufficient support around the sanctions imposed on Russia, especially in countries that depend on high grain imports such as North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and the Gulf region. “, he tells VG.
In the Polish border village of Wysocki, Marcin Sobczuk and Piotr Kozma despair as crops rot before they can be sold. Piotr frowns as he looks at three metal signs hanging in the barn, indicating that the farm has received support from the European Union to purchase tractors.
They are tired of Brussels and all its directives.
– I understand that there are other countries that need these foreign grains, for example countries that suffer from heat waves and have lost their crops. But it is so wrong that we should be the ones to pay.
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