Glacier FarmMedia – I suppose theft of grain has always been part of war.
Armies have always foraged for food, and victors have frequently carried away these spoils of war. One defence tactic has been to go ‘scorched earth’ and burn crops while retreating.
But if grain has always been a tool of war, the criminal syndicate disguised as a country that is Russia has taken it to a whole new level.
A recent wire story shows the Russian government speculating its grain exports will grow by an estimated five million tonnes, despite a looming drought that might ordinarily see export expectations fall.
Much of that will come from what the Russians have euphemistically dubbed ‘new territories’ that they aim to annex through forced referendums of the terrified local population.
The balance will, no doubt, come from grain stolen and shipped to international buyers. A recent joint investigation by Associated Press and the “Frontline” television series strongly suggests Russia has smuggled at least US$530 million worth of Ukrainian grain, and used the proceeds to fund the war.
Using satellite images and marine radio transponder data, they tracked more than three dozen ships that carried grain from Russian-occupied Ukraine to ports in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, among other destinations.
You’ve got to give Russia credit. It appears to be fully committed to taking both organized crime and kleptocracy to a whole new level.
As for the buyers of the stolen grain, I am of two minds.
First, these are at best middle-income countries, many with food deficits, who depend on Russia and Ukraine to feed their people.
And secondly, it’s not entirely sure, in the often-murky world of the international grain trade, whether they knew where the grain in question was sourced.
It’s easy to take the high moral ground from a food secure, relatively wealthy nation, but in the legal system, need doesn’t necessarily equate with innocence. A man or woman who shoplifts a loaf of bread to feed their hungry kids is still, in the eyes of the law, guilty of theft.
In this case, the likely charge would be receiving stolen goods, whether we’re talking about bicycles or catalytic converters or grain.
Of course, there’s no global police force that can arrest these types of state criminals and criminal accessories, at least not without waging a large-scale war that none of us should want.
But there are some steps that our government — and other democratic governments around the globe — do need to seriously consider.
One is the nature of our relationship with the emerging China-Russia axis. Canada’s top military official sounded the alarm earlier this month when speaking to MPs on the Commons standing committee on national security.
General Wayne Eyre, chief of defence staff, told the MPs that Russia and China consider themselves to be “at war with the West” and that Canada needs to rise and meet this challenge.
Britain’s top military official delivered a very similar message to MPs in that country more or less simultaneously.
If that sounds an awful lot like a new Cold War, that’s because it’s exactly that. Nobody should relish the return of this geo-political reality. But we do need to acknowledge it is being thrust upon us.
The Western nations need to reconsider if we really should be shipping our intellectual property off to China as fast as it can be developed, in exchange for cheaper labour.
And they likewise need to consider who their friends and enemies are, and who they want to draw into their own camp.
The support these nations have shown to Ukraine is a good start and should be expanded. And we should be paying at least as much attention to other large regional powers, like India, to act as a counterbalance.
How the West can insulate itself from the capriciousness of the nations that aren’t allies is another key question.
That means energy security, where Canada can and should play a role, and food security, where we can also be a major contributor.
But it’s also going to mean adopting a more ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ approach, especially with China. For a long time the business establishment in Canada — including the agriculture and food sector — has vigorously courted China as a market.
But what we should have figured out by now is that it’s a fickle business partner at best, prone to bullying and bellicosity.
What we’re talking about is a profound rethinking of our foreign policy, one that will have profound effects, including on the agriculture sector.
But the alternative is — or at least should be — unthinkable. It involves ignoring our own proud history of rule of law, democracy and human rights.
It starts with a grain robbery, and ends who knows where.
– Gord Gilmour is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. His editorial appeared in the Oct. 13, 2022 issue.