MOSCOW/ NEW YORK/ KYIV/ LONDON: A global food crisis looms unless the war in Ukraine is stopped because fertilizer prices are soaring so fast that many farmers can no longer afford soil nutrients, Russian fertilizer and coal billionaire Andrei Melnichenko said on Monday.
The United States and its European allies have cast Putin’s invasion as an imperial-style land grab that has so far been poorly executed because Moscow underestimated Ukrainian resistance and Western resolve to punish Russia.
The West has sanctioned Russian businessmen, including European Union sanctions on Melnichenko, frozen state assets and cut off much of the Russian corporate sector from the global economy in an attempt to force Putin to change course.
Putin refuses to. He has called the war a special military operation to rid Ukraine of dangerous nationalists and Nazis.
“The events in Ukraine are truly tragic. We urgently need peace,” Melnichenko, 50, who is Russian but was born in Belarus and has a Ukrainian mother, told Reuters in a statement emailed by his spokesman.
“One of the victims of this crisis will be agriculture and food,” said Melnichenko, who founded EuroChem, one of Russia’s biggest fertilizer producers, which moved to Zug, Switzerland, in 2015, and SUEK, Russia’s top coal producer.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands, displaced more than two million people, and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States, the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
Putin warned last Thursday that food prices would rise globally due to soaring fertilizer prices if the West created problems for Russia’s export of fertilizers which account for 13% of world output.
Russia is a major producer of potash, phosphate and nitrogen-containing fertilizers major crop and soil nutrients. EuroChem, which produces nitrogen, phosphates and potash, says it is one of the world’s top five fertilizer companies.
The war “has already led to soaring prices in fertilizers which are no longer affordable to farmers,” Melnichenko said.
“Now it will lead to even higher food inflation in Europe and likely food shortages in the world’s poorest countries,” he said.
Russia’s trade and industry ministry told the country’s fertilizer producers to temporarily halt exports earlier this month.
Melnichenko, who was just 19 when the Soviet Union collapsed, started out trading foreign currency while a physics student at the prestigious Moscow State University.
A gifted mathematician who once dreamt of becoming a physicist, Melnichenko dropped out of university to dive into the chaotic and sometimes deadly world of post-Soviet business. (Int’l News Desk)