The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Putin is starving millions of people around the world

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of his security council on May 20. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Reuters)

Vladimir Putin’s atrocities are growing by the day. In addition to having the blood of Ukrainians on his hands from his completely unjustified war, the Russian leader is also responsible for the growing starvation of people around the world. Ukraine is the breadbasket for much of the Middle East and North Africa. Right now, Mr. Putin is preventing Ukrainian grain from leaving the port of Odessa and along other key Black Sea routes. The result is dire: Global food prices are at an all-time high, and 276 million people are food insecure — more than double the numbers from 2019.

Sri Lanka is the latest example of just how devastating Mr. Putin’s global food crisis is becoming. The island nation has nearly run out of food and fuel. People are lining up for days for what little is still available. As one desperate father told Reuters, “Without food, we are going to die.” As food prices have skyrocketed since Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Sri Lankans have not been able to afford the higher costs, and the government does not have enough money to help. The country just defaulted on its debt for the first time in its history.

Mr. Putin’s next moves will decide whether much of the developing world experiences mass hunger and even famine this year and next. World leaders are urging the Russian leader to at least allow grain shipments out of Ukraine to help feed tens of millions of people in countries that rely heavily on imported food — such as Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon, Tanzania, Uganda, Egypt, Tunisia and Cameroon.

“If you have any heart at all for the rest of the world, regardless of how you feel about Ukraine, you need to open up those ports,” U.N. World Food Program head David Beasley said at the recent Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing conference. Mr. Beasley’s team normally sources about half of its grain from Ukraine. “Millions of people around the world will die because these ports are being blocked.”

It turns out not only is Mr. Putin blockading shipments on the Black Sea, he has even had Russian ships steal Ukrainian grain and try to sell it, according to CNN. Many nations refused to buy the pilfered goods, but it appears the grain ended up in Syria, one of Mr. Putin’s few allies.

To their credit, other nations have stepped up to provide more money and food. The United States has already given $2.6 billion to help prevent the food crisis from turning into widespread famine, and lawmakers just approved nearly $5 billion more for food and humanitarian needs as part of a Ukraine aid bill.

But with 20 million metric tons of grain and corn just sitting in storage at Ukrainian ports right now, there’s only so much the rest of the world can do. Mr. Putin’s war is on the verge of becoming Mr. Putin’s global famine.