The war in Ukraine is once again posing instability beyond Eastern Europe, following Russia’s withdrawal from the UN-brokered grain deal. For the past year, this deal largely maintained the steady export of grain from Ukraine — the world’s breadbasket — curbing some of the worst economic volatility that raised concerns earlier in the war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that Russia would be leaving the deal, arguing that it favored shipments of Ukrainian grain while Russia faced obstacles exporting its own grain. Since this announcement, Russia’s military has attacked Ukraine’s export infrastructure. The IMF is now predicting that grain prices could rise up to 15 percent. Some analysts believe this move risks eroding Russian relations with Turkey and China, two of the largest recipients of grain under the deal.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has announced that he will work to convince Vladimir Putin to return to the deal. Throughout the war, Erdoğan has been the main point of contact between NATO and Russia and helped broker the grain deal. However, at NATO’s recent summit in Lithuania, Turkey paved the way for Sweden’s entry into the alliance. This was a major advance for the imperialist powers and it is to be seen how the move might impact Erdoğan’s ability to negotiate Russia’s return to the grain deal.
Putin withdrew from the deal just before hosting a summit of African countries in St. Petersburg which he used to make a case that Russia was a more reliable ally than the United States for African countries. To bolster his image among the African leaders, Putin promised to donate 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain to six different African countries. These donations are hardly enough to address the greater supply disruptions and inflation that threaten African access to grain.
While Putin — and even some outlets on the Left — try to spin Russia’s actions as a challenge to Western hypocrisy, the fact is that Russia is using its role as a regional power to gamble with the world economy in order to create more favorable conditions for the Russian capitalist class. As was the case before the grain deal, the instability in exports will lead to inflation that capitalists from Russia and the imperialist countries alike will make the working class pay for.
In the Global South, the consequences of rising grain prices can be especially dire. These countries are always forced to pay more for vital resources and already face greater economic strain due to underdevelopment and illegitimate debts imposed by greater powers. The workers and oppressed throughout Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, and the rest of the most exploited countries in the world will have an even harder time weathering the economic storms this war continues to create.
Nonetheless, there is truth to claims of Western hypocrisy. Putin is not some uniquely evil figure threatening to starve the world, as the NATO leaders and their imperialist media outlets would have us believe. Rather, Russia is playing the game that Western imperialism has led for decades. The NATO countries, and the United States especially, have shown time and again — including with their sanctions on Russia — that they are just as willing to starve millions of workers in order to maintain their power at the top of capitalist competition. The system these powers created maintains global hunger by treating food as a commodity, and privileging the wealthy imperialist countries while starving the majority of the world. This is a reality that the war in Ukraine has exposed. As Putin’s recent moves show, the volatility of the capitalist competition playing out in this proxy-war threatens to escalate, even as the world powers try desperately to keep their crises from getting too out of hand.
Because capitalism continues to put war and hunger on the agenda, no capitalists can be counted on to provide solutions or progressive alternatives for the majority of workers and oppressed around the world. Solutions will not come from the emerging capitalist bloc of China and Russia, nor from capitalist alliances claiming to represent the developing world, such as BRICS or the African Union. Workers and socialists must fight for international, working-class solidarity against wars, inflation, hunger, and all the capitalists who compete with each other at our expense.