by Philip Pilkington
Tuesday, 7
June 2022
Reaction
13:36

You can’t blame Russia for all the world’s problems

Western leaders are trying to deflect responsibility
by Philip Pilkington
It’s not all his fault. Credit: Getty

In George Orwell’s classic 1984, the three great super-states Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia are continuously at war with one another. This war, Orwell tells us, “is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was”; rather it is a perpetual war and is used to justify the poor living standards experienced at home to a confused population.

Yesterday, the President of the European Council Charles Michel blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for causing a global food crisis at a UN security council meeting. Russia’s UN ambassador stormed out. Certainly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put pressure on global food prices, but Michel made a stronger accusation than that. “Russia is solely responsible for this food crisis,” Michel said. US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, went further still. He stated that “Russia is pilfering Ukraine’s grain exports to sell for its own profit”.

This is obviously untrue. To see this, we only need look at the consumer price inflation index broken down by component. As of April, food prices in the UK are rising at around 6.8% year-on-year. This is a high rate of food price inflation — the average rate since 2010 has been around 1.5%.

But as the chart below shows, this upward trend began in November-December 2021, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In February, the rate of food price inflation was already 5% — and since the invasion took place at the end of that month, it could not have been the cause.

I am not denying that the situation in Ukraine will not make this crisis worse. But it is just one of many factors. In fact, the sanctions that we are imposing on Russia are likely having more of an impact than the war itself. Ukraine is an important wheat producer, but not as important as Russia. Ukraine makes up around 7% of world wheat imports, but Russia makes up 18%. Yet even this is dwarfed by the fact that Russia is a key player in the global market for fertiliser, meaning that the sanctions wreak havoc with local crop production.

If we take a few steps back, we start to see what is really to blame for our inflationary woes: our leaders, who believe that they can clumsily intervene in our economies at will. This tendency started with the lockdowns, where they treated the economy like a desk fan that could be turned off an on. And we saw it again following the Ukraine invasion, where they drew up arbitrary sanctions packages while completely ignoring their potential effects.

If the war in Ukraine had not started, our leaders may have had to evaluate the consequences of their actions during the lockdowns. But the war gave them cover to further meddle with our economies — and now they have someone to blame for the problems they themselves were creating. The public does not seem to buy it — most leaders in major countries have terrible opinion poll ratings — but the leadership class appears to operate in a different universe from the rest of us.

This is not a sustainable situation, economically or politically. Something will eventually have to give. The characters in Orwell’s novel bought into the Party narrative and accepted that the shortages and poverty they experienced was a result of the actions of the enemy abroad. But the people in our societies know that our leaders are to blame — the Party narrative will crumble very soon.

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ralph bell
ralph bell
18 days ago

Completely agree.
They evidence constantly shows sanctions rarely work and mainly affect the poorest in society, yet politicians continue to use them in order to virtue signal , they are ‘doing something’…

Su Mac
Su Mac
18 days ago

I can feel the exasperation flowing from this author in waves as yet another load of rubbishy propaganda for the proles is shovelled onto the bonfire of Western Civ. I listened to a translation of Putin’s recent speech on the subject of inflation, grain export quantities, alternative routes from Ukraine etc…OMG, the man is like listening to an actual, logical informed adult rather than the petulant teenagers representing us!
And isn’t it weird that many people will think me weird for having listened to the words of a leader of one of the major nations. If you are thinking that… ask yourself why?

Andrew F
Andrew F
17 days ago
Reply to  Su Mac

For a start, Russia is not a major nation apart from having nukes.
It is energy station run by gangsters.
Idea that listening to Putin will somehow provide guidance to “better” Western policies is complete bonkers.
Many people in the West liked Hitler and Stalin and Mao.
You think Putin logical, informed and reasonable.
For me he is genocidal, corrupt megalomaniac leading his country to penury.
Why don’t you clear off to Russia, Sue?
That is assuming you are not already there.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
15 days ago
Reply to  Andrew F

To be fair, this argument is based on the extremely common ‘all or nothing’ fallacy that says that people must be assessed as entirely bad or good on every measure. Or truthful / deceitful etc. Hitler might well have been kind to animals.
Putin is much more right than, say, Biden, on the essential biological difference between men and women. He might well have good reasons to be careful and analytic in certain if not all of his comments. After all – truth in some respects matters to him as to everyone, for example HOW much will Russia’s economy be impacted and HOW much revenue can the Russian state expect. He might also have a secondary goal of appearing reasonable to divide western opinion.
None of this means that Putin’s unprovoked invasion or his mass political repression can be justified.

Last edited 15 days ago by Andrew Fisher
Harry Child
Harry Child
15 days ago
Reply to  Su Mac

I will tell you why from Putin’s own statements as reported elsewhere in Unherd and other newspapers.b “He has compared the war in Ukraine to Peter the Great’s conquests in the Baltic, arguing that in both conflicts Russia was recovering its own territory.” Also
“He has repeatedly sought to justify Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where his forces have devastated cities, killed thousands and put millions of people to flight, by promulgating a view of history that asserts Ukraine has no real national identity or tradition of statehood.* You russian apologists are simple minded if you think this little man would stop at Ukraine

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
18 days ago

I love ‘turn on and off like an office fan.’

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
17 days ago

Always interesting that politicians claim credit for anything good that happens and disclaim blame for anything bad.

polidori redux
polidori redux
17 days ago

“Western leaders are trying to deflect responsibility”
Of course they are. Their problems are self-inflicted. Putin is a heaven sent opportunity: A monster sent to save them from the wrath of the electors.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
17 days ago

Hopefully you can edit out the double negative at the start of the 5th paragraph (under the inflation graph)

Dominic A
Dominic A
16 days ago

“This is obviously untrue”
Oh yeah?
https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/wheat

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
15 days ago

It’s a shame the comments so far have pursued, as all too often, a series of all too often repeated ‘woke’ and environmental talking points, and the specifics of this excellent analysis ignored!
The article isn’t about the war itself, sanctions, climate change, or identity politics. Come on people – keep to the point!

Nicola Farey
Nicola Farey
18 days ago

Climate change (droughts, flooding) has also had a major negative impact on food production in the US and China.

Steven Campbell
Steven Campbell
18 days ago
Reply to  Nicola Farey

Instead of kicking off your statement with a P.C. trope why not just say that as usual in the history of man and agriculture some draughts and flooding may have some impact on the current supply of certain grains. Draughts and flooding have been with us forever as have periods of lesser draughts and floods. We deal with them.

Jeanie K
Jeanie K
17 days ago

do you mean “droughts”?

David George
David George
17 days ago
Reply to  Nicola Farey

And Australia and India have had record grain harvests. The Climate Change God giveth and taketh apparently.
Or, as steven points out, some places have droughts and floods; same as it ever was. Beware of believing the pervasive propaganda.
One recent example: the Australian 2019/20 bush fires were widely presented as both unprecedented and the direct result of human induced climate change. Permanent drought (subsequently there has been abundant rain), the dams will never be filled, this is the new normal, we’re on the edge of Armageddon!

The twenty odd million hectares burned in that season were never compared to the 120 million burned in the ’74/75 season, a time when the worry of the day was an approaching ice age after thirty wears of global cooling. Could it be that we’re being actively lied to Nicola?