The European Commissioner for Agriculture: “The Russian method of expansion to dominate other nations is to cause famines” | International
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The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski (Rawa Mazowiecka, Poland, 67 years old) accuses Russia of trying to subjugate Ukraine by deliberately causing a famine. “It is the Russian method of expansion,” says the community leader, referring to the famines that killed millions of Ukrainians during Stalin’s Soviet period. Wojciechowski acknowledges that the accusations against Vladimir Putin’s regime are based on data provided by the kyiv authorities that cannot be verified by neutral sources. “But for me it is credible information,” he says during a videoconference interview with a group of international media, including EL PAÍS.
Ask. He has ensured that food security is guaranteed in Europe despite the Russian invasion of an agri-food giant like Ukraine. But what will happen, especially in Ukraine, if the war continues?
Answer. In Europe, at the moment, we are impressed by the heroism of the Ukrainian nation and the Ukrainian Army. Russia will not be able to occupy Ukraine and Ukrainian agri-food production will continue. But I am Polish and I know the history of this region better than other parts of Europe. And the Russian method of expansion to dominate other nations is to cause famine. It already happened in the Ukraine in the 1930s, with a great famine, and a similar situation in Kazakhstan. It has been the experience of many nations. At that time, millions of people died for lack of food. And we have to take this situation very seriously, as the Ukrainian Minister of Agriculture and the Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU have told us. The Russian Army is attacking agricultural infrastructure and killing farmers in the field as they work. We must do everything to keep them working, because Ukrainian agriculture is very important for global food security. Farmers are heroes like soldiers, willing to keep working under the bombs.
The Russian Army is attacking agricultural infrastructure and killing farmers in the countryside
P. Are you aware of any specific incidents that show that Russia is trying to cause a famine in Ukraine?
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R. I have no information on specific incidents. The Ukrainian Minister of Agriculture and other Ukrainian authorities have told me that the Russian Army is attacking agricultural infrastructure, destroying chicken farms near Kherson with very serious consequences not only for food, but also for sanitary conditions. It is difficult to verify the information because there is a war, but for me it is credible information.
P. As a Pole and familiar with the history of the region, what do you think of Ukraine’s offer to accept a status of neutrality if Moscow ends the invasion?
R. I don’t like giving advice to Ukraine given the situation. What I can say is that in my country, Poland, it is completely open for Ukrainians and has already taken in more than two million. And my opinion is that we should do everything possible to support Ukraine’s European aspirations, to make it part of the EU. It is very important for the security of Europe. But, of course, it is a Ukrainian decision and in this specific situation our obligation is to support the Ukrainian nation and the Ukrainian people.
We must do everything possible to support Ukraine’s European aspirations
P. Poland and other countries advocate that Ukraine enter the EU as soon as possible. In that case, what would be the impact for the Common Agrarian Policy of the incorporation of a country with a huge primary sector? Would it be an asset or a problem given its size?
R. Ukraine has a strong agricultural sector. But it is striking that before the war, when trade relations were normal, I heard many complaints about trade with that country. There were those who warned that it was a great competitor for our farmers, that it was not good that we imported so many Ukrainian products. Now that imports have stopped due to the war, the complaints have varied and it is recognized that we need Ukrainian imports, we need their corn, their oilseeds, for our production, above all, for feeding our livestock farms. It has been seen that Ukraine’s entry into the EU would strengthen the Common Agricultural Policy. Of course, such a decision to join has many political angles. But in agriculture, the war has shown that we need to cooperate with a large food producer and exporter like Ukraine.
Ukraine’s entry into the EU would strengthen the Common Agricultural Policy
P. Is the halt in imports endangering Europe’s food security?
R. Imports from Ukraine were 6 billion euros a year before the war. These are important figures, but their loss does not create a security risk for Europe. It is important to say it. There is no food security risk for Europe, but there is for the Middle East and North Africa.
There is no food security risk for Europe, but there is for the Middle East and North Africa.
P. What products are most at risk?
R. Ukraine is a major exporter of grain, corn, and oilseeds. Between Ukraine and Russia, —although it is difficult to put together the attacked and the aggressor— they represent 30% of world cereal exports. We must maintain Ukrainian exports and prevent Russia from benefiting from aggression, occupying markets where Ukraine cannot reach with its products. In the Middle East and North Africa, Ukrainian exports were very important. Our intention is not for other countries to occupy that space, but to help Ukraine maintain its exports. One route would be through Poland to the ports of the Baltic countries. And we also have to get our food exports to Ukraine, which amounted to about 2,000 million euros a year before the war. The problem is how to organize this trade safely. There have been attacks in Lviv, 70 kilometers from the Polish border, targeting necessary fuel supplies, for example for tractors.
P. European agriculture is also suffering from rising energy prices, fertilizers…
R. We have taken steps to improve the situation. We have activated the crisis reserve with 500 million euros, which with the co-financing of the States can reach 1,500 million euros to support farmers affected by the crisis caused by the aggression against Ukraine. The rule on non-productive areas has been repealed, which makes it possible to put an additional four million hectares into cultivation. State aid of up to 35,000 euros per farm will also be temporarily allowed. And an intervention in the pig sector, because its situation is really difficult.
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