Russia Brings Its Food Security Misinformation To The G-20

Russian officials are seeking traction with poorer states that have borne the brunt of shortages and rising prices.

Russia Brings Its Food Security Misinformation to the G-20
Russia Brings Its Food Security Misinformation to the G-20

On the back foot at the Group of 20 summit and appearing increasingly isolated, Russian diplomats are fanning out in Bali to again push unsubstantiated claims that nations including the US are to blame for high global food prices, rather than their own invasion of Ukraine.

With food security -- including access to grain supplies and crucial fertilizers for the 2023 crop season -- dominating the first day of the summit on the Indonesian island, Russian officials are seeking traction with poorer states that have borne the brunt of shortages and rising prices. It’s part of an effort to sow divisions between richer Group of Seven countries and what is known as the “Global South.” 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stood in for President Vladimir Putin, who is not attending the summit. One of the few formal events he joined in Bali was the summit session on food security, where host President Joko Widodo warned of a looming crisis due to shortfalls in fertilizer.

The summit comes days before the expiry of a deal that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments to start flowing again from its ports that Russia blockaded in the initial months of the war. Turkey and the United Nations have pushed for the agreement with Russia to be extended, and officials familiar with the negotiations say Moscow will agree to roll it over as scheduled.

Speaking via video link on Tuesday to the G-20, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told leaders he believed the “export grain initiative deserves an indefinite extension - no matter when the war ends.” Zelenskiy’s speech to the gathering prompted an outburst from Lavrov, who repeated a litany of unsubstantiated accusations about what had prompted Russia to intervene military in Ukraine.

The discussions at the G-20 show how food security is caught in the wash of a large misinformation campaign, say European and other intelligence officials. Moscow is still pushing on the issue and in late September circulated talking points and arguments for Russian diplomats to use. It is possible the same materials were shared with countries friendly to Russia, according to one European official with direct knowledge of the matter.

The Russian document sets out many of the points Moscow has made publicly and shows a systematic effort to spread those mostly false claims, while enlisting diplomats to push back against criticism, according to Western officials. 

It states that any rise in food prices and fertilizer is caused by the energy and agricultural policies of western countries, as well as the sanctions the US and the European Union placed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine. 

The US and the EU have not sanctioned Russian food and agricultural exports. A number of buyers and banks are self-restricting on imports and some exports are getting tangled up in the wider net of measures that have been imposed on Moscow. 

But Russia is still managing to ship big volumes of grain and fertilizer, putting it on track to keep its rank as the world’s top wheat exporter. Both the EU and the US have vowed to not impede essential shipments. 

Russia Brings Its Food Security Misinformation To The G-20

“The EU is doing its utmost to alleviate the situation,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the summit on Tuesday. “Just to set the record again straight,” she added, “there are no sanctions on agri food products and fertilizers.”

Putin “uses the suffering of innocent people as a geopolitical pressure tool,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told leaders in Bali. “And if President Putin then puts the blame on the sanctions imposed against him, this narrative is simply wrong.”

Even so, one official from a non G-7 country said Russia’s views were getting a more sympathetic hearing among some emerging economies. They echoed the Russia-pushed narrative that grain ships leaving Ukraine were being diverted to developed countries rather than Africa, and that the grain that was making its way to Africa was costing a premium. 

The Russian document accuses western corporations of benefiting from high food prices to the detriment of Russian firms. It also makes unfounded claims that, while Moscow has allowed unhindered exports of Ukrainian grain, Kyiv’s allies continue to restrict Russian exports.

Putin has repeatedly claimed in recent weeks that developing nations aren’t benefiting from the grain deal, though his argument isn’t borne out by data which show a significant chunk of shipments have gone to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. 

Food prices have also dropped since a peak in the Spring and there are currently no widespread shortages, the European official said. They added that deliveries from the Black Sea contributed to global demand regardless of the final destination of specific vessels.

Russia Brings Its Food Security Misinformation To The G-20

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