by Gilbert Doctorow, published on GilbertDoctorow. substack, September 22, 2023
We can be thankful that domestic electoral contests sometimes lead to good outcomes on the foreign policy level, not only to the awful outcomes we see in Mr. Biden’s America.
I have in mind the dramatic spat between Poland and Ukraine over that country’s grain exports which was brought before the world media and diplomatic community at the United Nations General Assembly this week.
On the dais of the General Assembly, President Zelensky slammed unnamed East European countries which a week ago defied the EU’s lifting of a temporary ban on Ukrainian grain entering the EU on the 15th and said they will unilaterally continue to refuse entry of these commodities. Even before his UN appearance, Ukraine had said it will take the offenders, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, to court at the World Trade Organization for violation of trade rules.
For his part, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded on Polish television, saying that his country will no longer supply weapons to Ukraine. Jaws at the editorial board of The Financial Times and other mainstream Western media dropped upon hearing this decision. As we all know, Poland has been the most ardent supporter of the Ukrainian war effort, prodding other EU members to do their part.
Poland has taken in by far the largest number of Ukrainian refugees from the war. It has supplied substantial amounts of military materiel to Kiev from its own arsenal. And Poland has been the main transit country delivering NATO weapons and munitions to Ukraine from its domestic marshalling points across the border from Lviv.
No one had any doubts why the Polish government has done this policy reversal: it is facing a close election in less than a month and it needs the full support of Polish farmers to achieve a win. Those farmers have been demonstrating vociferously against the Ukrainian grain entering the country ostensibly for destinations abroad but de facto remaining on their home market and being sold at prices far below the Polish farmers’ production costs.
“Close election”? I mentioned this issue several weeks ago on these pages and one comment came back from a reader who insisted that the incumbent rabidly anti-Russian and nationalist Law and Justice Party is projected to win the elections handily. However, the latest polling information that I have heard on CNN yesterday indicated that the Law and Justice Party will garner just over 31% of the votes, while the leading Opposition party, Civic Platform will garner 28% of the votes. Law and Justice is tipped to form the next government only because it has in the wings a coalition partner with which they can put together a majority in parliament. Under these circumstances, I think it is fair to call the election “close” if Law and Justice were to lose the support of farmers, who are rather well organized politically in Poland.
It is especially interesting that in his fury over the impertinent and insulting speech of Zelensky, Morawiecki let out an observation that you otherwise would not have heard or seen in Western media: namely that the grain Ukraine is exporting is on behalf of the Ukrainian oligarchs who own the farmland.
Though he was incensed, Morawiecki nonetheless did watch his words, because he omitted saying that the Ukrainian grain being exported is also substantially produced by American agricultural behemoths who now own about 28% of the farmland in Ukraine and are raising their stakes all the time.
It would be fair to say that the whole scandal over Ukrainian exports of grain via its EU neighbors is not that the grain does not end up in the ports of the world’s neediest countries, it is that the beneficiaries of the exports are US corporations and Ukrainian crooks, not the Ukrainian people and its small holding farmers in particular. The main losers are the farmers of small, medium and large holdings in the EU, who cannot compete on price with the Ukrainians both because of the natural advantages of their ‘black earth’ lands, the most fertile in Europe, and because of the industrial scale that has been introduced in Ukraine by the new corporate owners, domestic and foreign.
In the midst of the dispute over Ukrainian grain, Western media have picked up tidbits of information about other Ukrainian agricultural commodities that have raised heckles among EU farmers. The longest list probably has been compiled by Hungary, which seeks to ban virtually all produce from Ukraine. For their part, Bulgaria and Romania have complained over cheap Ukrainian honey.
And yet the complaints over predatory pricing of Ukrainian farm products have come from as far west as France, where the main issue is Ukrainian poultry meat, priced at less than half producer costs in France. In part, this is due to the same cheap grain issue, since chickens are walking sacks of grain: two kilograms of wheat give you one kilogram of broiler chickens. But the additional driver of Ukrainian export prices is scale of production. French television recently brought out the fact that the biggest exporter of poultry meat to France that is being purchased by the school lunch programs as well as by major retail grocery chains is a Ukrainian complex that raises one million chickens at a time and has vertical integration from the grain inputs, to the hatcheries, to the slaughter and chilled packaging of eviscerated chickens. By contrast, the average chicken farmer in France keeps just 50,000 birds. It would be interesting to know who exactly owns that industrial scale chicken complex in Ukraine.
If the French do not ban such imports, their domestic farming will suffer greatly. Simply put, farms will go bankrupt. Whether or not American capital is behind the chicken war on France, you can be sure Washington is not concerned over the damage to French agriculture that will result from the ‘free trade’ with Ukraine in all commodities that it and the EU institutions in Brussels are promoting.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023
*Featured Image: The Vinnytsia region is one of the areas of operation of the company “Mironivsky Hliboproduct” (MHP). This company, owned by the Ukrainian oligarch Yuriy Kosyuk, controls most of the Ukrainian market in chicken meat and, besides this, exports almost one quarter of its production abroad. MHP’s agricultural holdings cover every stage of the production cycle – fields and grain production (Zernoproduct), fodder production, incubators, poultry rearing facilities, slaughterhouses, meat processing and bone meal production plants and waste water treatment facilities (the Vinnytsya poultry farm.
Editor’s note: It is interesting to consider the fact that Russia does not attack those farms, nor the dams and the water purification facilities. Surely, they could do so, and leave the Ukrainian people to starve. That is what the US did in Iraq. In Afghanistan the U.S. and their allies turned all the productive farmland to the production of heroin to finance the war.
Gilbert Doctorow has published his memoirs of his 25 years of doing business in and around the Soviet Union/Russia, 1975 – 2000. Memoirs of a Russianist, Volume I: From the Ground Up was published on 10 November 2020. Volume II: Russia in the Roaring 1990s was released in February 2021.