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We’re about to feel the true cost of Putin’s war

Grain being loaded onto a ship in Mariupol last year. Christopher Occhicone/Bloomberg/Getty

People don’t appreciate how much worse the economic repercussions from the Ukraine war might have been, says Thomas Fazi in UnHerd. Russia is the world’s leading exporter of gas, and accounted for around 50% of the EU’s demand before the invasion, while both Russia and Ukraine are major grain producers. We avoided economic “catastrophe” largely because of two crucial agreements: the Black Sea Grain Initiative, under which Russia allowed Ukraine to continue exporting the crop via the Black Sea, and a deal allowing Russian gas to pass through Ukraine and into Europe. Now Moscow has suspended the former, and Kyiv looks set to retaliate by terminating the latter.

We shouldn’t be surprised. The grain deal was a “big, if rare, victory for international diplomacy”, but one which “hinged entirely on Russia’s goodwill” – and that goodwill has been shattered by Ukraine’s counter-offensive. And while Western officials have chastised Moscow for “using hunger as a weapon” – by stopping Ukraine’s grain exports to poorer nations – it’s Europeans who will really pay the price. Less than 3% of grain exported via the Initiative was shipped to the world’s neediest countries; 80% went to wealthier ones like China and Spain. As for the gas, experts predict that Ukraine shutting off its pipelines will reduce supply to Europe from Russia by around 50%. If that happens, we’ll be left with an energy shortfall so large it couldn’t possibly be plugged by imports from the US and Qatar. The true cost of this war, for us Europeans, “is about to greatly increase”.

🌾🌍 At last week’s Russia-Africa Summit, says Mareike Müller in Handelsblatt, Putin offered six countries – Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea – free deliveries of up to 50,000 tonnes of grain each, to replace the Ukrainian supply he had cut off. What could be driving this generosity? It’s probably because the Central African Republic and Mali host Wagner mercenaries, and Burkina Faso might follow suit. The gifts should be seen as “thanks for loyalty – or as advance payments for future political support”.