Russia-Ukraine: Two years of war
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Ukrainian flag is covered with grains.


What We’re Watching: Lavrov meeting UN chief Guterres, Biden hosting South Korea’s President Yoon

Playing chicken with grain again

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday in New York for talks on renewing that crucial Ukraine grain export deal.

To rewind, last year, with the Ukraine war contributing to soaring global food prices, the UN and Turkey brokered an agreement for Russia to lift a naval blockade that was preventing Ukraine from exporting its huge grain harvests to the world. At the same time, the UN also agreed to help Russia boost its own massive exports of grain and fertilizer, which had fallen because of financial sanctions against the Kremlin.

By tamping down global food prices, the deal helped prevent more than 100 million people from falling into extreme poverty, according to the UN. But Russia says it hasn’t seen enough progress on its own grain and fertilizer exports, and Moscow is threatening to ditch the grain deal altogether when it next comes up for renewal on May 18.

Let’s see whether Guterres and Lavrov can separate the wheat from the chaff on this to grind out an agreement.

Beyond that, expect some diplomatic fireworks as Lavrov chairs two meetings of the UN Security Council, where Russia currently holds the rotating presidency. How does, say, Ukraine feel about that? See our recent interview with Kyiv’s UN envoy Sergiy Kyslytsya.

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A demonstrator holds up a mock mouse head during a protest against inflation in Panama City.

REUTERS/Erick Marciscano

What We're Watching: Panama protests, US-Taiwan drama, Russia-Ukraine grain deal

Protests paralyze Panama

In yet another example of how inflation caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine is stoking social upheaval around the globe, the Central American country has been paralyzed for weeks by protests over the high cost of food and gasoline. The demonstrations began in late June, fueled by footage of lawmakers partying with $340 bottles of whisky, and they have continued despite the government’s move to lower gasoline prices over the weekend. Now, with highways partly shut by protesters, food, and fuel shortages are worsening, and the government is rationing electricity to parts of the country because fuel trucks can’t get through. For decades, Panama has been relatively stable, owing to revenue from the Panama Canal and the fact that its currency is pegged to the US dollar. But as the Panamanian salsero Rubén Blades once noted, life is full of surprises: the pandemic crushed GDP by nearly 20% in 2020, and the recovery has been slow, with the jobless rate remaining above 12%. Meanwhile, inequality ranks among the highest in the region, and activists say corruption is rampant, even though the country returned to democracy in 1990 after Uncle Sam’s heavy metal ouster of dictator Manuel Noriega.

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War in Ukraine puts 280 million at risk of hunger

War in Ukraine puts 280 million at risk of hunger

The war in Ukraine has been dominating headlines since Russia’s unprovoked invasion on February 24. Of all the implications of the conflict, the most important is also one of the least well-covered: its impact on global food systems.

Three months in, the war has jolted agricultural markets, leading to soaring food prices and growing global hunger. The FAO’s Cereal Price Index was up 21% between January and April, while the Vegetable Oils Index was up 28% in the same period. Before the war started, there were nearly 1.2 billion people globally facing food insecurity, of which 780 million lived in extreme poverty and almost 39 million were at risk of famine. Fast forward to today, and the ranks of people facing food-related distress have swelled to 1.6 billion, 1.1 billion, and 49 million, respectively.

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