Wheat Prices Soar as Russia Exits Grain Pact, Flashing Back to Stalin’s Forced Starvation

Monument to victims of Holodomor. Ceremony of commemoration of victims of the famine-genocide of 1923-1933 years. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Wheat prices are soaring as Vladimir Putin threatens déjà vu in Ukraine: Forced starvation. 

Russia over the weekend withdrew from an agreement allowing grain exports from Ukraine through the Black Sea. The Kremlin has called the suspension “indefinite” following drone attacks on Russia’s naval fleet, claiming without evidence the attacks came from a Ukrainian grain ship. Wheat prices in Chicago jumped as high as 7.7% to $8.9325 a bushel on Monday, per Bloomberg.

Often referred to as the “Breadbasket of Europe,” Ukraine holds a significant global market share by volume in wheat (10%), barley (13%), corn (15%) and sunflower oil (50%). Russia’s decision to exit the safe-passage accord, which was brokered this past summer by the United Nations and Turkey to allow the flow of Ukraine’s crops to the rest of the world, harkens back to a tragic period at the heart of Ukrainian identity: Holodomor.

Derived from the Ukrainian words for hunger (holod) and extermination (mor), the  Holodomor was a forced starvation program in the Soviet Union launched by Stalin in 1929. Of the 5 million victims who perished, more than 3.9 million were Ukrainian. Raphael Lemkin, who invented the word “genocide,” described Stalin’s policies against the Ukrainian people as the “classic example” of his concept. As part of its collectivization policy to integrate individual properties into state-owned farms, the Soviet Union also deployed Red Army officials to Ukrainians’ homes to confiscate food items.

“It is a case of genocide, of destruction, not of individuals only, but of culture and a nation,” said the Jewish-Polish lawyer.

According to Timothy Snyder’s Borderlands, “Survival was a moral as well as a physical struggle. A woman doctor wrote to a friend in June 1933 that she had not yet become a cannibal, but was ‘not sure that I shall not be one by the time my letter reaches you.’ The good people died first. Those who refused to steal or to prostitute themselves died. Those who gave food to others died. Those who refused to eat corpses died. Those who refused to kill their fellow man died. Parents who resisted cannibalism died before their children did.”

Much of Western media’s focus concerning Russia’s war with Ukraine has centered on Putin’s control of oil to Europe. With winter fast approaching, rising wheat prices from lack of exports from Ukraine could contribute to global food shortages; especially if Putin is willing to deploy starvation of entire populations as leverage. Ukraine also provides food to much of the African continent, which has been ground zero for Russian disinformation campaigns via editorials blaming the West for an upcoming food crisis.

“I have heard it several times from different people: ‘Hunger is our last hope,’” the editor of Russia’s state-run RT television network, Margarita Simonyan, told Putin at a conference this summer. “This means that once hunger sets in, this will bring them to their senses. This is when they will lift sanctions and will be friends with us, because they will understand that there is no way around it.”