December 9, 2022

The world faces a worsening global food crisis as the Russia-Ukraine war drags on and the West should act accordingly, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer during an episode of Influencers (full interview above).

“We are edging into serious global food security issues,” Stavridis said. “And that’s not just a humanitarian concern. That can lead to civil unrest, waves of refugees, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East are very pragmatic reasons for us to avoid that. As well as the obvious and overarching one of avoiding humans starving to death.”

Russia’s blockade of ports on the Black Sea prevents Ukrainian wheat exports, which are imported by Middle East countries including Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya, and Somalia.

A Ukrainian serviceman attends at wheat field on the front line near the city of Soledar, Donetsk region, on June 10, 2022 amid the war with Russia. (Photo by Anatolii STEPANOV / AFP) (Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Admiral Stavridis, author of the new book “To Risk it All,” added that action would need to be taken at some point.

“That grain needs to get out of Ukraine,” the retired four-star U.S. naval officer said. “It’s not going to go by land, there’s too much of it. You’ve got to move bulk things in the world and the world trade — 95% of global trade moves by the sea.”

Wheat prices (ZW=F) surged after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Futures are currently up 41.5% year to date, reaching levels not seen since 2008. (And that is not the only commodity flow being strained: Ukraine is also an exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil.)

The U.S. and its allies, according to Stavridis, should consider helping secure food shipments out of Ukrainian ports.

“This blockade is illegal,” he said. “And by the way, it’s not being conducted in Russian territorial seas. This blockade is blockading Ukrainian waters and international waters. The United States and all of our allies, we have a vested interest in keeping those high seas freedoms. So you could conduct a Maritime escort operation to get the grain out, going through strictly Ukrainian and international waters.”

How that would actually happen would be a high stakes debate.

“Is it provocative to Russia? I suppose,” Admiral Stavridis said. “On the other hand, it’s not like we’re sailing ships into Russian waters lifting a blockade that is effectively in Russian territorial seas. … I would argue we are certainly very close to the point where we have got to get the grain out. And this is a viable way to do so.”

The UK intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine for June 9, 2022. (UK Ministry of Defence)

The UK intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine for June 9, 2022. (UK Ministry of Defence)

As for the actual details of this kind of international operation, Stavridis explained how exactly the U.S. would go about planning and deciding.

“It would start with, OK, how many mines are in the water already? How do we get rid of the mine threat? Where are those minesweepers going to come from?,” Stavridis said.

“Then it would be, ‘OK, who will participate with us in this exercise? Will we ask NATO to do it? Will we do it ourselves? Will we ask the United Nations to do it? Number three would be: How are we going to inform Russia? What are the legal mechanisms we’re going to use here? Fourth would be strategic communications. How are we going to portray this to the world?’

Then you get down to the granular decisions. … You build that whole plan, then you’d go over to the White House and brief it, and the President would make a decision as to whether this was a go or a no-go decision. I suspect — I don’t know — but I suspect that set of conversations is happening at some level at this moment.”

Check out the full interview above.

Ines is a markets reporter covering equities. Follow her on Twitter at @ines_ferre

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