Grain War

Grain is an old tool, weapon is the appropriate term, of imperialism. Once, the weapon was widely used by imperialism; and the weapon was used against countries in the Southern Hemisphere – to control, press and coerce the countries whenever the master of the world order desired. Use of the weapon created famines in countries – hundreds and thousands died. That was actually murder on a mass scale.

The weapon’s style of use depended on the type of governing system of the country targeted, and the ruling person’s inclination, trend, possible path in economy and politics. The type of use of the weapon related a relation between the master and the concerned country. A huge literature exists about the weapon, its use, and consequences.

Over the last few months, the on-going Ukraine War has brought the issue of grain to the table of geopolitics. There was the grain deal made between Russia and Ukraine, and there were two other parties as mediators – Turkiye and the United Nations. That deal was made and unmade, made operable, and then, breached by one party. Since the beginning of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, Moscow announced the sending of grains, free of cost, to poorer countries. Then, the Russian leadership accused the other party – Ukraine – and its backers of not fulfilling all terms and conditions of the grain deal. With this accusation, Moscow suspended the deal. Russian leadership’s accusations include [1] most of the grain that was transported from the war-zone, ended up in rich countries in the Northern Hemisphere although those grains were meant for the poor countries in dire need of grain; [2] a part of the deal – financial transaction, etc. related to Russia’s grain export – were not fulfilled although fulfillment of that part was integral to the deal; consequently, Russia considered it had been deceived. This breach of the deal compelled Russia to suspend the deal. Russia, however, said it stands by the deal if all terms of the deal are fulfilled, if the poor and poorest parts of the globe get grain transported through the Black Sea; and if Russia’s financial transactions related to the grain deal are allowed to go unhindered. The issue is yet undecided. Russia has promised grains free of cost for the poor/poorest part of this planet. It has already sent a part of that promised grain to a number of countries in Africa.

Now, another problem related to grain has developed elsewhere on the planet, and that’s between Ukraine and a few of its allies. These allies extend many types of support, essential for waging a war, to Ukraine. But Ukraine has another path related to its grain. Grain markets in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia have been flooded with cheap Ukrainian grain, and the market-motion is bruising grain farmers of these countries. This has led to Polish and other countries’ measures that hinder or block the  market-movement of Ukrainian grains that occupy markets in Poland and these countries.

This grain market behavior may be disturbing to all anxious for a Ukrainian victory in the war. Certain scholars or market lovers now face a problem in the grain markets of Poland and other concerned countries. The problem has ballooned, as the countries are closely acting as a party in the geopolitical game named the Ukraine War. Poland is the staunchest ally, other than the Empire, of Ukraine; and as the staunchest ally, Poland is a key, probably the biggest hub of weapons that are supplied by imperialist powers to Ukraine; and Poland has handed over a huge quantity of weapons from its own stock to the Kiev leadership to fight Russia. Poland is also a major training ground of Ukrainian soldiers. Moreover, Poland has sheltered the biggest chunk, millions, of Ukraine refugees.

This competition in market or conflict of interests in market has produced interesting utterances by the leaderships in Warsaw and Kiev. These include:

The Polish Foreign Minister Mr. Zbigniew Rau who told: Ukraine is taking advantage of Poland’s goodwill. Poland has been flooded with Ukrainian grains after the main maritime routes via the Black Sea were closed off. Dishonest grain traders are taking advantage of what was designed to facilitate an emergency transit route for Ukrainian grains to countries in Asia and Africa. Poland has taken the heaviest burden of this war, and the Polish people are asking themselves why they are being forced to pay the bill for helping Ukraine twice. Six hundred times more Ukrainian wheat was imported into Poland in the first four months of 2023 than during the corresponding period in 2022; consequently, the Polish farmers were hurt. He referred the incident as unfair economic competition on the part of Ukraine. The Polish leader made the comment in an article published in US outlet Politico. He was surprised by Ukrainian President Mr. Zelensky’s accusations against the Polish government: Poland failing to show enough solidarity.

This development in the area of economy created problems in the area of Polish politics – a chain reaction of market-actions. Poland’s government has imposed a ban on  Ukrainian imports. All major political parties in Poland, as the minister claimed, support the Polish government’s decision to impose the ban. Support is a must, as none would like to lose votes from the farmers’ block.

The Polish Prime Minister Mr. Mateusz Moraweicki declared that Poland was no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine. Later, the Polish President Mr. Andrzej Duda harshened the tone by trying to tone down his PM’s voice: Ukraine can yet count on obsolete weapons of Polish stocks. But, he added, Kiev is a drowning man, who risks dragging under the water those trying to rescue him.

Grain stretched to a real area of conflict – weapons and war!

The quarrel of the close allies spread further. Mr. Zelensky, the Ukraine President, in his speech at the UN criticized some friends in Europe who are “playing out solidarity in a political theater, turning the issue of grain into a thriller”.

Ukrainian authorities have lodged complaints with the World Trade Organization. Kiev claims that restrictions by Poland are illegal.

It’s not grain, it’s the market that is playing forcefully in the area of politics, inter-state relations, war alliances.

The Polish PM retorted that the Ukrainian President should never slander Poland on the world stage. In a rally in the Polish city of Swidnik he spoke of wanting to tell President Zelensky never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the UN. Warsaw would stand up for its interests in the current geopolitical context.

Moreover, the Ukraine ambassador in Warsaw was summoned to the Polish Foreign Ministry.

Poland also asked the US to intervene in the feud between the friends.

The Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Arkadiusz said: the dispute distracts their “common cause of defeating Russia.” Other than seeking help of the US, he also sought help from the EU to resolve the dispute.

So, this is stark, at least in one case, here: It’s the Poland-Ukraine grain market that needs intervention, and the intervention is political; no intervention of market forces is effective. Actually it was profit – who to profit from the Polish grain market – the Ukrainian farmers or the Polish farmers? And, the profit money is to be collected from the Polish consumers at the Polish grain market. This pocketing business can’t only rely on transfer of commodity from one place to other, but, also on political intervention, and imposition of the force of law. What the market-mongers say, “no need to intervene, let market forces play themselves,” “free flow of market, or commodity, capital and profit,” etc., isn’t correct.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh. One of Farooque’s recent books is The Great October Revolution (Dhaka, 2022). Read other articles by Farooque.