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Will the EU send warships to take wheat out of Ukraine?

2022-05-30 | EU

After Germany refused to relax sanctions in exchange for the unblocking of Ukrainian ports by Russia, the EU "is weighing" whether to launch its military structure and send a war fleet to carry out the Ukrainian grain. The excuse: the danger of famine in third countries. But this is hard to believe: since when is the EU willing to risk open war with Russia for the needs of semi-colonial countries? Wasn't it going to increase its own exports to alleviate the global price increase? What lies behind the plans for a new "Crimean war"?

Are wheat prices having such an impact?

Wheat price trends over the last year

Wheat price trends over the last year

A few days after the invasion of Ukraine, it seemed clear that famine and a new international division of agri-food production were on the way. A general picture which, in Europe, will almost necessarily be accompanied by a setback of social relations in the countryside and a new push to the most harmful elements of the agri-food industry. "Agri-food production is well on the way to becoming war production", we said... and that was almost an understatement.

Read also: Food security and the war economy, 14/3/2022

As of today, wheat prices have risen by 50% since the start of the war. The first signs of shortages began as early as March. Three Mediterranean countries, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon, were the first to become concerned.

Soon, the effects of the price increases began to generate shortages even in producing countries such as Argentina, where landowners were charging higher and higher domestic prices on the domestic market, since they were guaranteed to sell at much higher prices abroad. In an attempt to avoid this result, others, such as India, banned exports outright, pushing global prices even higher.

Wheat was becoming a major imperialist bargaining tool. The weaker food-producing countries had few options: either they obtained the "protection" of an ally - such was the case of Egypt, which was exempted from the Indian export ban - or they found new suppliers - Algeria found Mexico - or they saw social unrest rise like wildfire in the face of the immediate threat of famine, as we have already seen from Iran to Burkina Faso.

Not surprisingly, at this point, the threat of famine is already looming over 193 million people. Countries like Turkmenistan are already in need of humanitarian aid.

But wasn't the EU going to increase production and exports?

Janusz Wojciechowski EU Commissioner for Agriculture

Janusz Wojciechowski EU Agriculture Commissioner

As soon as the disaster began to loom, a few days after the outbreak of hostilities, the EU tried to calm things down by assuring that it would increase exports as part of its war policy.

And so, in early April, the EU declared a state of war in the agricultural sector. The Commission asked member states for extraordinary plans to reform the acceleration plans of the Green Deal because "those plans were peacetime plans and now it is wartime".

The Commission loosened environmental standards and allowed planting on fallow land and land of ecological interest as a "temporary derogation while maintaining the full level of organic payments for farmers". The turn-around was a full-fledged confession of the Green Deal's most aggressive contradiction: increasing productivity in terms of profit while reducing productivity in physical terms, the infallible formula for scarcity and famine.

Read also: The most aggressive contradiction of the Green Deal

But as some states like the Czech Republic reminded everyone, the contradiction with the goals of the new War Economy was not going to be bridged with limited and temporary patches.

In the Czech Republic, despite the otherwise late fallow exemption, the Commission maintains its plan to move to 25% "organic" production. Agribusiness and landowners alike compare the situation to that of Sri Lanka, where the massive leap to organic farming dictated by the quest for a revaluation of agricultural capital has resulted in the abandonment of crops and the imminence of a famine.

It is hardly surprising that when the Commission published its report on "Food Security", agricultural spokespersons and analysts across Europe went into a frenzy.

From the very first page of the communication, the European Commission tried to make it clear that it had nothing to do with the looming food security crises that will affect developing countries. It blamed the Russian invasion (four times), market speculators (three times) and the pandemic and climate change. ‎...‎

The failure of EU agricultural policies has brought Europe to the point where its dependence on imports and its demand for low-yielding luxury (organic) crops is fast becoming the reason for food shortages and vulnerability in developing countries.

And the Commission's solution to future food insecurity is to stubbornly continue to promote its Farm2Fork that will further strangle EU agricultural production, making the poorest countries, which cannot afford to pay, even more vulnerable to food stress.

Europe's crazy food security strategy, David Zaruk in Contrepoints.

To top it off, the EU is suffering, just this year, from extreme drought in 3/4 of its territory. Spain and France are seeing their harvests shrink and double in price at first sales, although farmers say this price increase barely covers production costs.

The situation is aggravated by the European war game itself. On the one hand, the expectation of a shortage of sunflower -a less delicate crop- led many farmers to change wheat for the oilseed, reducing the percentage of cereal planted; on the other hand, the shortage of water reserves was aggravated by the draining of dams that the electricity companies have been carrying out during the last year to artificially raise power prices and put pressure on the government.

Between one thing and the other, the tale of the Brussels milkmaid, the fantasy of maintaining the agrarian Green Deal in the midst of an economy turned to war, has proved to be farcical.

Can they bridge the contradiction between war economy and Green Deal with... more war?

Demonstration of Andalusian farmers against the CAP in 2020

Demonstration of Andalusian farmers against the CAP in 2020.

In other words, the internal contradictions of European capital and its "green" revival plans, have given Russia a winning hand. Putin, well aware of his leverage, offered the reopening of Ukrainian ports and exports in exchange for a relaxation of the sanctions that keep Russian grain and fertilizer exports blocked in European and British ports.

The exchange seemed the most likely in the current situation. After all, Ukrainian grain is insufficient to unburden the market, Russian grain is needed as well. As the UN Secretary General stressed, "there are no effective solutions ‎to the grain shortage‎ without food from Ukraine and without food and fertilizer from Russia and Belarus." But the German refusal has been explicit. The contradictions between war and food security will predictably be bridged... by escalating the war.

First it was Lithuania and Great Britain who openly fantasized about sending a navy fleet to the Black Sea to "take out the Ukrainian wheat". Now the core military organization animating the EU that is the one making its own plans to open the passage to the port of Odessa.

The "big idea": to bridge the contradiction between war economy and Green Deal... with more war, reediting the spectres of the Crimean War even at the risk of nuclear escalation.

What is restraining the imperialist ardor of Brussels?

Turkey controls the gates of the Black Sea.

Turkey controls the gates of the Black Sea.

1 The imperialist game with Turkey, guardian of the Black Sea gates and old ally of Ukraine. The situation is tense now. Ankara closed the Dardanelles to the passage of warships last February, and Washington is becoming increasingly aggressive over Ankara's refusal not to veto the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO without compensation. A tension aggravated by the Turkish threat of a new offensive in Syria against the YPG forces allied with the US and France.

The US is open to allow, yes, Turkish rearmament... but this only serves to make Ankara more and more aggressive towards Greece and Cyprus, putting Brussels in a bind. In response the two Greek countries oppose the fast-track integration of Ukraine, getting in the way of Borrell and von der Leyen's discourse.

In short: entering the Black Sea with a warship fleet means giving new trump cards to Turkey and multiplying contradictions within NATO and the EU. Erdogan's complicity is expensive.

2 The fear of a Russian nuclear response. Although the US, Britain, Poland and the Baltic states seem willing to go to the point where Russia would escalate the nature of the war, Germany and France really fear and for the same reasons a nuclear escalation. It would undoubtedly mean the definitive and irreversible rupture of the Eurasian economic fabric, the basis of German export power. Or, in other words, the bankruptcy of European capital and the definitive and forceful end of any hint of European "autonomy" vis-à-vis the United States.

What factors depend on unstable balances?

The aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, the most recent of the British navy's large ships, entering Portsmouth in 2017.

The aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, the most recent of the British navy's large ships, entering Portsmouth in 2017.

European armies have no experience in the field, their Anglo-Saxon allies do. Britain already sent its fleet into the Black Sea over a year ago, causing a dangerous brawl with Russian ships and a warning from Moscow. They were preparing a scenario like the one that is shaping up today. The US has been preparing an amphibious operation since then, when it sent the first landing ship into the Black Sea and began air games with Russia, which in turn, immediately raised the stakes.

Depending on how the political play of detail and the context of balances within the EU and NATO between the EU powers on the one hand and the US and Britain on the other, the need to lean on the Anglo-Saxons may work as a brake or as an accelerator in Brussels.

What tips the balance in favor of an armed EU intervention in the Black Sea?

Scholz reviews German troops in Niger on May 23.

Scholz reviews German troops in Niger on May 23

1 By now Germany and France know themselves to be the first losers in this war. The entire EU is trapped in an imperialist war in which the US is in the driver's seat and from which, once again, the EU will emerge broken, divided, subordinated and even more dependent on the "American friend". Raising the stakes, going even further than the US is willing to do, is seen as the only way to regain the initiative and revive the plans for a European "Defense Union" that France is encouraging.

2 The Maghreb and the Sahel are becoming the EU's "backyard" within NATO. The complementary scenario to Ukraine and the Caucasus in the imperialist battle with Russia. And, as we have seen, it is the region that has been hit first by the grain shortage: 18 million people are already on the brink of famine in the Sahel, Tunisia imported 53% of its wheat from Ukraine so far, Libya 44%.

Shortages can only hinder the real imperialist takeover bid that the European allies are launching in the region, while presenting themselves as guarantors of grain supplies gives them extraordinary power over regional governments.

The need to organize against the war

Demonstration against the Iraq war in Madrid, 2003

The danger of both intervention and nuclear escalation is real. To this day the European powers have managed to keep the pockets of resistance to the war among the workers isolated and they cheer the non-existence of mass mobilizations against the war. Every day they are more confident because of the paralyzing effect of the defensist lies while their speeches become more warmongering.

As long as the strikes do not include the end of hostilities in their platforms, as long as the media can maintain the illusion of the "patriotic union" of classes "in support of Ukraine", the danger of an acceleration of irreparable consequences will not find real obstacles.

It is time to organize.