STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT. Spiking food prices caused by the war in Ukraine are threatening to push more people to the brink of starvation. If G7 countries don’t deliver on aid, poorer nations might turn elsewhere. Meanwhile, G7 leaders are examining a new package of actions aimed at increasing pressure on Russia over its war in Ukraine.
A few hours earlier, the fridge had been filled with butter. Many, many little glasses, each holding its own cold, golden clump, now all gone. The waitress apologizes profusely after I approach her with my question and my plate of bread and cheese. The buffet needed to make space for the rows and rows of pudding — vanilla with red currant, chocolate with cookie — brought out as an afternoon snack. I assure her I’ll survive until the catered dinner in an hour, and exit the Bavarian banquet hall, past baskets of pretzels, towers of tiny salads and bowls of purple, yellow and beige hummus.
As host of this year’s Group of Seven (G7) summit, Germany has spared no expense, at least not on catering. But as journalists choose between spaghetti bolognese and sweet potato curry, the world leaders they’re here to cover are hidden away in a castle up in the nearby mountains, trying to solve world hunger.
The United Nations has warned that the world is facing an “unprecedented hunger crisis,” with around 180 million people expected to face a food crisis this year. Some 750,000 people living in Ethiopia, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan are currently at risk of starvation and death, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in New York on Tuesday.
“When somebody is hungry, nothing else matters. Nothing,” Edwin Ikhuoria, Africa executive director of the ONE Campaign, a nonprofit that fights against global poverty, said in an interview near one of several snack bars at the G7 press center.
People knew this crisis was coming, he said, after it failed to rain for several farming cycles in a row.
“You know what that means?” he said. “There is no harvest. Communities as a whole migrate to other places where they can find food. Livestock are practically dying on the field, because there is no grass.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made an alarming situation worse. Sanctions and fighting have disrupted the cultivation and shipment of commodities like wheat and sunflower oil out of both countries, both major food exporters.
Getting grain exports out of Ukraine is a central focus at the G7 summit, Chancellor Olaf Scholz told German public broadcaster ZDF from Schloss Elmau, the Alpine hotel where the leaders congregated. “Negotiations are ongoing day and night,” he said.
For the second day of the summit, the leaders of five major emerging market economies — Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal and South Africa — were invited to join permanent members Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and EU leaders for talks on food security.
The summit participants discussed making funds available to tackle a looming starvation crisis in many countries. Shortages and the high cost of energy, also partly due to the war, have pushed up food prices around the globe, hitting the poorest countries the hardest.
Western influence at risk
Western leaders are under pressure to unite other countries behind their opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine, while Moscow is eager to blame Western sanctions for the worsening food crisis.
“Russia is responsible for this dramatic crisis, not international sanctions,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said at a recent food security conference. “We know about indirect negative sanctions effects and we acknowledge them. However, they are much smaller than the brutal actions of Russia, which uses hunger as a weapon.”
Three of the invited countries — India, Senegal and South Africa — refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the UN General Assembly, choosing to abstain from a vote held in March. Following a recent trip to Moscow to discuss food security, Senegalese President Macky Sall said he felt “reassured” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Senior US government sources on Monday said leaders at the G7 summit had made progress on setting a price cap on Russian oil imports to curb Moscow’s energy revenue.
News of plans for ramped-up sanctions affecting oil and Russia’s military machine emerged as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the summit by videolink.
“The dual objectives of G7 leaders have been to take direct aim at [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s revenues, particularly through energy, but also to minimize the spillovers and the impact on the G7 economies and the rest of the world,” the Reuters news agency reported an official as saying on the sidelines of the summit.
As Monday’s summit talks got underway, the United States also said sanctions would target Russia’s defense industry in a bid to hamper the effectiveness of the Russian military.
Zelenskyy appeared on a television screen next to the round table where the leaders sat on Monday at the secluded Schloss Elmau luxury hotel.
He was reported to have asked the group for anti-aircraft defense systems, security guarantees, help on grain exports, further sanctions on Russia, and reconstruction aid.
German Chancellor Scholz gave a statement to reporters from Schloss Elmau on Monday evening, saying that there was “no going back to the time before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
“All rules, all agreements that we had made with each other about how our states work together, have been broken,” Scholz said. “In particular the understanding that borders cannot be changed with violence.”
“All G7 members are ready to make the necessary decisions,” he said, adding that they could best deal with the unknown challenges of the future by working together.
“It is good, important and necessary that we talk to each other. Listening to each other creates mutual understanding and makes our work easier,” Scholz said. The German chancellor also said that all G7 members had agreed to keep supporting Ukraine for the long term.
G7 issues statement on Ukraine
A G7 statement was also issued on Monday morning, shortly after Zelenskyy’s appearance. It said the group was committed to “sustaining and intensifying international economic and political pressure on President Putin’s regime and its enablers in Belarus.”
“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military, and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” the G7 said.
The statement demanded the return of Ukrainian citizens taken to Russia against their will and said there could be no impunity for war crimes and other atrocities. It also said Moscow must allow grain shipments to leave Ukraine to avoid a global food crisis.
The leaders added that some sanctions could target individuals responsible for war crimes or exercising illegal authority in Ukraine.
The G7 said leading economies would seek to provide safe passage for refugees from the country, including by streamlining immigration procedures and visa requirements.
It said the nations would explore ways to meet Ukraine’s humanitarian needs, including recovery and reconstruction, and that this might include the use of Russian assets frozen as consistent with national laws (Red/many sources).