War and grain

En Français in Italiano po Polsku українською мовою

Ukraine and the world war that dare not speak its name

The Lithuania Tribune, October 6, 2023, United4Ukraine, October 10, 2024

The US policy of “strategic caution” towards Russia, as devised by the Biden administration, may be criticised for its implementation but the principle behind it is hard to contest. 1 However, the policy has had a deleterious side-effect: that of obscuring the global nature of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

Emblematic of this is the recent controversy over the transit of Ukrainian grain through the European Union, and the subsequent explicit calls on Ukraine to show gratitude to the countries that are supporting it. That demand reflects a narrow and erroneous understanding of the meaning of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. It limits support for Ukraine to a question of solidarity, where the beneficiaries are asked to show their gratitude. Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, demonstrated this when he said that “it would be good for Ukraine to remember that it is receiving aid from us”, adding ominously that Poland was “also a transit country for Ukraine”. Robert Telus, Poland’s agriculture minister, brandished another threat: “Poland will block Ukraine’s accession to the EU if the issue of grain exports is not resolved.”

And yet however important the aid – military 2, political and economic – has been from the fifty or so states in the Ramstein coalition, those countries are all in the rear of the conflict, far from the action. It is Ukrainians and only Ukrainians at the front line. They are the ones in the trenches, in their bombed-out towns, resisting aggression. Only Ukrainians are victims of the unspeakable crimes against humanity and war crimes of Russian soldiery. This war is as much ours as theirs, and yet it is only the Ukrainians who are dealing with injuries, amputations, death.

In a new world war which dare not speak its name because of the risk of escalation, the outcome of this first phase will be a determining factor in the second episode to come: the war of aggression planned by the People’s Republic of China against Taiwan. Political, military and economic aid to Ukraine is therefore an imperative for the short, medium and long-term security of all democratic states.

As US Senator Mitt Romney pointed out, “decimating the Russian army” using just 5% of the US defence budget is an “extraordinarily wise investment” 3. It is all the more so for most European states given that their military aid to Ukraine is well below 5% of their defence budget.

But military aid to Ukraine benefits Nato countries in another way. It allows Western democracies, which have drastically reduced their defence budgets since the fall of the Berlin Wall and whose reaction times are slower than those of authoritarian regimes, to prepare their armies and defence industries for that other formidable challenge to their security. But they must first recognise that the imperial nature of China’s regime 4, and its future imperialist designs in Asia (and not only in Asia), represent a challenge to the West’s security.

The grain issue is part of this global context. In particular there was the unilateral decision by Poland and a number of other Central European countries 5 to ban the import of Ukrainian wheat. Their move, which runs counter to existing agreements between Ukraine and the EU, was authorised on a provisional basis by the European Commission last April, on condition that the countries did not prevent transit to other countries.

Grain is also in the background of the upcoming Polish legislative elections. A look at wheat prices 6 over the last three years shows major fluctuations both before and after the invasion of 24 February 2022. Rather than any influence by the war in Ukraine, this may indicate that Polish farmers have mastered the art of obtaining subsidies and are simply having trouble accepting the laws of the market when prices fall sharply.

The grain dispute probably also reflects an awareness on the part of the Polish government, which is inclined towards economic interventionism, of the dangers of Ukraine joining the EU with a competitive agricultural sector that does not benefit from European subsidies. Here, the Polish government is anticipating an issue that will concern all European countries by 2030. That is the year designated by the EU Council president as a possible EU accession date for Ukraine, Moldova and a number of Balkan countries.

At issue here is a far-reaching reform of the Common (or Colbertist) Agricultural Policy, which has turned European farmers into subsidy-hunters. Such a reform would involve the dismantling over the next five years of all subsidies for production, exports and income. Together these payments account for more than half of the CAP budget, or more than 20% of the total budget of the European Union.

Poland’s support for Ukraine aroused sympathy and admiration well beyond those who share the Polish government’s political vision. The grain affair was a wake-up call. We can only hope that, after eight years of uninterrupted rule by the Law and Justice party (PiS), the Polish electorate will allow the party to take a well-deserved break on the opposition benches. Indispensable EU reforms depend on it, as does the salvation of relations between Poland and Ukraine.

As for the planned attack on Taiwan by China, there is every reason to fear that Europeans have no intention of collectively supporting Taiwan or the other countries that will be on the front line, such as the United States and Japan. The United Kingdom’s decision to open negotiations with Mauritius on the question of the Chagos Archipelago 7 is revealing. So too is the persistent desire of “big” EU members to put the cart before the horse by promoting, for the benefit of their national industries, a European arms market as an alternative to a common foreign and security policy and a common army.


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  1. Even without having access to all the US government’s information, it is regrettable that in the supply of armaments the lead times are often too long and/or the quantities too small, particularly in the case of armaments systems that have already been supplied. This is particularly true of air defence systems such as the Flakpanzer Gepard and Patriot or SAMP-T anti-missile systems, which are supplied in insufficient quantities. Germany is due to deliver two further Iris-T systems in the near future.
  2. According to the IFW (Kiel Institute for the World Economy), for the period January 2022 to the end of July 2023, the commitments of the top 10 providers of bilateral military aid are: United States: €42.1B; Germany: €17.1B; United Kingdom: €6.6B; Norway: €3.7B; Denmark: €3.5B; Poland: €3B; Netherlands: €2.5B; Canada: €1.7B; Sweden: €1.5B; Finland: €1.2B.
  3. Mitt Romney, The Telegraph, 14 September 2023
  4. The People’s Republic of China annexed Tibet (1950) and Aksai Chin (1962). East Turkestan (Uyghuristan) was annexed in 1934 and Inner Mongolia in 1947.
  5. Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
  6. €200/tonne in January 2021, €350 in October 2021, €400 in May 2022, €350 in September 2022 and €230 in September 2023. https://www.terre-net.fr/marche-agricole/ble-tendre/terme
  7. See in particular the article by Julian Lindley-French, ‘Diego Garcia and Britain’s Virtue Imperialism’ https://lindleyfrench.blogspot.com/2023/09/diego-garcia-and-britains-virtue.html

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