For nearly a month, the flag of suspicion has been raised on whether Russia is stealing grain from the dismantled country of Ukraine. This week, suspicions turned into facts as satellite images emerged, calling out the Soviet nation for once again taking what wasn’t theirs to start with.
As Russia continues to condemn Ukraine and everything it used to stand for, they continue to take it at a seemingly gluttonous rate. Although thoughts of Russia taking Ukrainian goods didn’t shock many, the seemingly randomized ramping up of the effort is what is shaking them. After flagging not one but two Russian bulk carrier ships docking and loading up with what is believed to be stolen Ukrainian grain in images, the obviousness of Russia’s actions seems to say it all.
In the past, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy has accused Russia of “gradually stealing” Ukrainian food products and trying to sell them. After combatting the accusations with an almost maniacal and systematic approach, all thoughts were not forgotten but put on the back burner.
Now, after Turkey conducted a deep-dive investigation last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu concluded that in early June, they’d discovered that Turkish buyers were among those receiving grain that Russia had stolen from Ukraine, adding he had sought Turkey’s help to identify and capture individuals responsible for the alleged shipments.
What shocked many was when Cavusoglu appeared at a news conference with British Foreign Minister Liz Truss in Ankara and seemed to deny Ukraine’s claims of stolen grain shipments arriving in Turkey, saying Ankara had not yet seen any such cases. Although Ukraine’s foreign ministry did not have an immediate response, the silence seemed to say all it had to.
This week, it seems as though evidence keeps on mounting in agreeance with Ukrainian claims. The evidence highlights how methodical Russia was when it came to stealing grain. Through not only first-hand accounts from Ukrainian farmers saying Russians stole their grain, destroyed their premises, and demolished their equipment, but also through satellite imagery.
After reaching out to farmers, BBC learned about an unfortunate reality through their witnesses, “Russian forces now occupy 80% of the tens of thousands of hectares he farms and accuses them of stealing grain on an industrial scale.” By using a CCTV security camera, a farmer was able to capture the moment Russian forces arrived. One soldier spotted a security camera and shot at it in the footage but missed.
An investigation following grain in Ukraine mentions Russian forces forcing Ukrainian farmers to sell grain at prices well below market rates, threatening to sign documents to prove it was purchased “legally.”
If first-hand accounts and video footage weren’t proof, enough GPS data seems to have opened the floodgates towards the truth. After Russian forces stole a few grain trucks with GPS trackers, they could track the data to see they had gone south into Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
In the Crimean town of Oktyabrske, GPS data showed both trucks had stopped close to a storage facility that had been identified as a location for unloading and storing grain. The soldiers then moved on to Russia. Satellite images from June 14, 2022, showcase a line of trucks on the road next to the facility.
We can determine that the grain storage facility is close to a train route leading to ports in southern Crimea or Russia. Russia has previously denied allegations that it has stolen Ukrainian grain. The Kremlin reiterated on Thursday that it had not stolen any grain.
It seems as though Russia is picking up speed when stealing Ukraine’s grain. Satellite images from June 14 seem like child’s play to their actions taken on June 17, 2022. On June 17, satellite images showed over 350 trucks at Conhar crossing, which is highly unusual for this location. It wasn’t until June 21 that Russia’s methods became clear. Satellite images show cargo trains with wagons that transport grain in clear sight.
Trains from the location of Dzhankoi are connected to the ports of Sevastopol and Kerch, where produce can be moved into Russia or abroad. After noticing an unusual influx in traffic going through the port of Sevastopol in the west of Crimea, showing a high level of activity throughout June.
It might not make geographical sense for Russia to use Sevastopol to export its grain, acting as a clear signal to grain stealing. However, some grain moving out of Crimea may be part of a backlog from the harvest of last year that was kept in storage because of the war, according to Mike Lee, an agriculture consultant with Green Square Agro who has worked in both Ukraine and Russia. Although Crimea is under Russian administration, supply routes have also been impacted.
Many deem the current situation as strategic. After noticing what was considered ‘deceptive sailing,’ it seems as though Ukrainian claims of Russia intimidating, stealing, and exporting are all possibilities, especially with the conniving methods Russia continues to use to hold their opponents in a choke-hold.