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Ex-Ag Secretary: Russia Plays 'Chicken' With World Food Supply

Image: Ex-Ag Secretary: Russia Plays 'Chicken' With World Food Supply Former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

By John Gizzi   |   Wednesday, 20 Aug 2014 10:29 PM

Russia's embargo on food supplies in response to sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union is the start of a "game of chicken" that could have a big impact on the world's food supply, says former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.

In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Schafer pointed out that as long as there is a conflict in Ukraine between pro-Russia separatists and the government of President Petro Poroshenko, backed by the U.S. and the E.U., Moscow "won't export stuff, and then we're not going to export stuff to them."

"They [the Russians] are heavily dependent on certain foods that are imported," Schafer told Newsmax, "and when people get hungry, you get unstable government."

The former governor of North Dakota, who served as agriculture secretary under President George W. Bush, spoke to Newsmax a week after the Kremlin announced its sanctions against the U.S. and 28 E.U. nations. The Russian sanctions were a response to sanctions imposed in July by the E.U. and U.S.

Nearly 10 percent of E.U. food exports go to Russia, and Germany is the top meat exporter to Russia. Of the estimated 1.5 billion euros' worth of meat and meat products exported from the E.U. to Russia in 2012, nearly 21 percent came from Germany.

"As we in the U.S. agricultural community have gotten into soybeans and corn and out of wheat," Schafer explained, "Russia has picked up the soft wheat production. You could say we have 'ceded the seed' to them."

When Russia responds to the embargoes of other countries, he said, "they will retaliate by placing more restrictions on exports to Russia. As the availability of certain products goes down in Russia as well as in the E.U. countries, the prices will internally rise. If these 'food wars' continue, then the products will become unaffordable or even inaccessible."

People in the countrysides of certain nations will be hit especially hard, Schafer added.

The former agriculture secretary pointed out that the Balkan countries "could be hit hardest if exports are shut down [by Russia]. They have the most fertile soil in the world."

As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Schafer pointed out that he "has a very good relationship with some of the huge agriculture outlets in his country. He also has strong ties to the agricultural equipment manufacturers. If people are getting hungrier, the manufacturers and the agricultural community will be urging Putin to back off on Russian sanctions against the U.S. and E.U."

"Then you have to ask the question: 'How long can he sustain the sanctions if he doesn't have their support?'"

Newsmax noted that Rep. Robert Pittenger, a North Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, has called for the U.S. and E.U. to use enough economic force against Russia to "get Mr. Putin's colleagues in the Kremlin upset enough to convince him to change his policies, or failing that, to depose him."

But Schafer stopped short of saying that a future loss of support from Russia's agricultural community might spell Putin's downfall.

"I don't think he can be ousted," Schafer said, "His stranglehold is too strong, and the industrialists support him because of his power. Unless he loses the support of the industrialists, Putin's in and we'll have to keep dealing with him."

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