World

Albanese’s message to Indonesia. Tragedy in a Nigerian church. Boris Johnson survives, for the moment. By Jonathan Pearlman.

EU accuses Russia of using food as a ‘stealth missile’

Ukrainians make their home in a shelter to escape intense shelling in the city of Lysychansk.
Ukrainians make their home in a shelter to escape intense shelling in the city of Lysychansk.
Credit: Aris Messinis / AFP

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: The European Union this week accused Russia of blocking food exports and deliberately stoking a global food crisis that could lead to famine and mass hunger across the developing world.

At a United Nations Security Council meeting, Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, said Russia’s attacks on Ukraine were preventing harvesting of crops, adding that Russian troops had been targeting storage facilities and stealing grain.

“The Kremlin is using food supplies as a stealth missile against developing countries,” he said.

The United States secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said the Kremlin had been trying to sell stolen grain for profit and had prevented Ukrainian grain exports from leaving the country.

“A Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea is preventing Ukraine’s crops from being shipped to their normal destinations,” he told a food security conference. “Simply put, it’s blackmail.”

Ukraine is a major exporter of grains and cooking oils such as sunflower oil. Russia is a major exporter of wheat and fertilisers.

As the fighting continued in the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week he would not settle for a stalemate and wanted Russia to leave all territory that it occupies, including Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

The Ukrainian government plans to reopen schools in September, a massive undertaking that will involve rebuilding 1888 damaged and ruined schools, and finding new homes for the 60,000 internally displaced people who are currently living in 4000 schools across the country.

Kimberley Gardiner, who is in Ukraine for Save the Children, said official figures showed about two-thirds of Ukrainian children had been displaced, but this was “probably an understatement”. She said 90,000 children who had been displaced had enrolled at schools in the areas in which they were now living.

“Restarting schools is a big focus for the government and for communities, but it is an ambitious challenge,” she told The Saturday Paper.

“It is pretty distressing to see the schools and buildings that have been destroyed. There is still hope here, but everyone is affected in some way – and the implications of this conflict globally for children are immense.”

The neighbourhood

Indonesia: Anthony Albanese travelled to Indonesia this week on his first bilateral overseas visit as prime minister, marking a tradition for incoming Australian leaders.

The visits began with Paul Keating, who declared in a speech in Jakarta in 1992: “The time has come to step out of the colonial shadow and make our position clear: we are Australian. We are engaged with Asia.”

He added: “What we need for a successful bilateral relationship is the firm ground of tangible achievements.”

Thirty years later, the message from Albanese remained unchanged. Though ties between Australia and its large northern neighbour have strengthened, the relationship lacks enough tangible achievements – particularly on trade – to rest on “firm ground”. In 2020, Indonesia, which has 277 million residents, was Australia’s 14th largest trading partner, behind countries such as Malaysia (34 million residents) and Singapore (six million).

In Jakarta, Albanese acknowledged that the economic relationship had not kept pace with Indonesia’s rise but promised to pursue new opportunities, including in clean energy. He was accompanied by several ministers, including the Foreign Affairs minister, Penny Wong, and a delegation of business leaders, including the heads of the Commonwealth Bank, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group.

The visit included a friendly meeting with Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, at which Albanese said he will attend a summit of leaders of the G20 – the world’s 20 largest economies – in Bali later this year despite the likely presence of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Former prime minister Scott Morrison and other leaders had urged Widodo not to invite Putin because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Albanese told reporters: “I’m focused on sitting with President Widodo, not President Putin … The Indonesian presidency of G20 is important.”

Democracy in retreat

Nigeria: At a church service last Sunday in Owo, a town in southern Nigeria, a group of gunmen began firing on the congregants from outside and detonated explosives, before entering the church and shooting those who tried to escape.

The Catholic bishop of the diocese, Jude Ayodeji Arogundade, who rushed to the scene after hearing about the attack, told the AIT television channel: “It was beyond what I ever imagined. A lot of bodies right there in the church, blood-soaked bodies.”

At least 50 people were killed. Authorities said they pursued the gunmen “but unfortunately, we could not catch up with them”. No group has claimed responsibility.

The attack occurred in one of the most peaceful regions in Nigeria, a country of 225 million people that has been experiencing an Islamist insurgency as well as serious violence by armed gangs, particularly in the north.

Investigators believe the church attack may be related to tensions over the use of land that have arisen between nomadic herdsmen and farmer groups. The nation’s growing cities and a lack of fertile land have been forcing herders to venture on to private farmland, which has led to conflict with rural communities. 

Spotlight: Boris clings on

On Monday Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, survived a no-confidence vote in which 148 Conservative MPs – or 41 per cent of the party room – voted to oust him and 211 MPs supported him. He described the result as “really good”.

The vote was prompted by concerns among Johnson’s fellow MPs about his involvement in the “partygate” scandal, which involved unlawful parties and gatherings at and around Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns. Johnson insisted “all the rules were followed” despite photographs showing that he was present, drink in hand, at gatherings that breached the lockdown rules. The parties occurred as Britain was facing a severe Covid-19 breakout. In Britain, the pandemic has killed more than 179,000 people.

The continuing partygate revelations have taken a toll on Johnson’s popularity, as has rising inflation. A survey in late May by Ipsos found 58 per cent of Britons believe Johnson should resign, 22 per cent believe he should stay, and 20 per cent were uncommitted.

Johnson’s win in the no-confidence vote was narrower than expected and left him with a smaller margin than his predecessor, Theresa May, received in a 2018 vote that eventually led to her resignation. But he described his victory as “conclusive and decisive”.

Johnson must now preside over a party that includes a sizeable bloc of MPs who have openly excoriated his leadership. Jesse Norman, an MP and former Johnson ally, this week released a two-page letter he sent to the prime minister that explained why he could no longer support Johnson’s leadership. “For you to prolong this charade by remaining in office … insults the electorate, and the tens of thousands of people who support, volunteer, represent and campaign for our party,” the letter said.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 11, 2022 as "EU accuses Russia of using food as a ‘stealth missile’".

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Jonathan Pearlman is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.

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