war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

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Chief Russian propagandist: “All our hope is pinned on famine”

Halya Coynash
Kremlin propaganda chief Margarita Simonyan claimed to be simply relaying a ‘joke, or exclamation’ she had heard from several people when, on 17 June, she told Putin that “All hope is pinned on famine”.

Margarita Simonyan on 17 June 2022 talking about famine as the only hope Screenshot

Kremlin propaganda chief Margarita Simonyan claimed to be simply relaying a ‘joke, or exclamation’ she had heard from several people when, on 17 June, she said that “All hope is pinned on famine”.  The director of the state propaganda channel ‘Russia Today’ was, however, speaking directly, and very publicly, to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and it is most unlikely that she would have pointed to Russia’s use of hunger for its own ends had this not been agreed in advance.

Simonyan was, officially, addressing both Putin and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the President of Kazakhstan, at the so-called international St Petersburg economic forum.  She said the following: “A cynical joke or perhaps an exclamation has appeared, I’ve already heard it from several people in Moscow.  ‘All hope is pinned on famine’.  What is meant is that famine will begin and they [in the West] will come to their senses, will remove sanctions and will be friends with us because it’s impossible to not be friends.”

The effective admission that Russia is generating famine as a weapon in its war against Ukraine coincided with a new and urgent warning from David Beasley, director of the UN World Food Programme that the world was facing “frightening” shortages that could destabilise countries that depend on wheat exports from Ukraine and Russia.

Russia has been using starvation tactics as part of its war against Ukraine since soon after its full-scale invasion on 24 February. In its attempt to gain control of Mariupol, it besieged the city, preventing people from leaving and humanitarian aid from reaching those in urgent need of food, driving water and medication.

It is also directly and deliberately blocking millions of tons of wheat from leaving Ukraine, with this both further destroying Ukraine’s economy and putting many other countries in danger of serious food shortages and inevitable disturbances. 

On 20 June, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, called Russia’s blockade of grain exports “a real war crime”.  He then, rather less clearly, added “So I cannot imagine that this will last much longer”.

Russia is committing multiple war crimes, with these likely to continue until the international community helps Ukraine stop them. 

This is not the first time that Moscow has used famine as a weapon against Ukraine.  The Holodomor, or manmade famine of 1932-1933 is recognized by very many countries as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. 

90 years ago, however, Joseph Stalin saw the need to conceal the crime, using cynical or naïve westerners, like Walter Duranty and George Bernard Shaw, to claim that there was no famine at all.  The current Russian regime continues to vehemently deny that Ukraine was deliberately targeted.

While Russia is scraping the barrel to find ‘excuses’ for its aggression, it can hardly deny targeting Ukraine.  It is, however, trying to claim that Ukraine, or even the West, are to blame for any food shortages.  Ukraine, presumably, because it does not want to be invaded and subjugated and is therefore showing opposition.  The West because it is supporting Ukraine’s legitimate wish to remain a free, sovereign nation, and because of the sanctions it has imposed against Russia. 

Moscow clearly sees no need to deny the undeniable and is therefore, as Simonyan makes clear, banking on instability and fatigue, or straight blackmail over mass famine, to get painful sanctions lifted.  It was already noticeable from Borrel’s remarks on 20 June that he saw the need to emphasize that price increases and scarcity of energy and food are the fault of the war, and that EU sanctions are not influencing that crisis “as they don't target food or fertiliser.”

While Ukraine resists Russia’s attack, the latter will aim for maximum destruction, suffering and instability to weaken the country.  Moscow is, in fact, interested in maximum instability in the world, and is more than happy to achieve this by stimulating a huge increase in the number of refugees and major food shortages.  Together with mounting inflation and poverty, these increase support for the far-right (and occasionally extreme left) parties in Europe that Moscow has been cultivating for years, and which almost invariably oblige by being pro-Kremlin, anti-Ukraine and anti-EU. 

In short, the greater the famine and humanitarian tragedy, the better for Moscow and lackeys like Simonyan.  Such brutal honesty should be heeded by western countries, and lead to the obvious conclusion that Ukraine must be actively helped to drive out and defeat Russia once and for all.

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