By Mitchel Cohen
Covert Action Magazine
Ten months before Russian troops poured into Ukraine, that country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a bill into law authorizing the private sale of farmland, reversing a moratorium that had been in place since 2001.
An earlier administration in Ukraine had instituted the moratorium in order to halt further privatization of The Commons and small farms, which were being bought up by oligarchs and concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. As documented in a series of critical reports over ten years by the Oakland Institute based in California, the moratorium on land sales in Ukraine aimed to prevent the acquisition and consolidation of farmland in the hands of the domestic oligarch class and foreign corporations.
The marketization of farmland is part of a series of policy “reforms” that the International Monetary Fund stipulated as a precondition enabling Ukraine to receive $8 billion in loans from the IMF.
Even amid the pandemic there has been “wide-ranging opposition from the Ukrainian public to reversing that ban, with over 64 percent of the people opposed to the creation of a land market, according to an April 2021 poll.”
Additionally, the IMF loan conditions required that Ukraine must also reverse its ban on genetically engineered crops, and enable private corporations like Monsanto to plant its GMO seeds and spray the fields with Monsanto’s Roundup. In that way, Monsanto hopes to break the boycott by a number of countries in Europe of its genetically engineered corn and soy.
It is the thesis of this essay that agricultural competition over land use between the U.S. and Russia—two gigantic capitalist countries with the most powerful nuclear arsenals in the world—is a neglected but important force driving the war in Ukraine.
Competing systems for growing crops
Six years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to seize economic opportunities around the growing of food by opposing genetically engineered agriculture and Monsanto’s Roundup, the world’s most widely used herbicide; he initiated a program to eliminate pesticides and genetically engineered crops from Russia’s fields. The goal was to out-compete the U.S. and Canada as the world’s number one and two grain exporters by going organic, which mattered especially in Europe with its stricter laws regarding the import and planting of GMOs.Farmers Weekly continues: “Russian agriculture minister Nikolai Fyodorov also believes Russia must remain a GM-free country. At a meeting of deputies representing rural areas organized by United Russia, he said the government will not ‘poison their citizens.’” United Russia is Russia’s largest political party, holding 2/3 of the seats in the state Dumas.
This was a far different response than provided by the government of Ukraine. Despite large protests against GMOs and the foreign corporate land grab, and despite the fact that Ukrainian law had prohibited private sector farmland ownership, Ukraine’s government negotiated a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund that stipulated a removal of the blocks to GMO production that was “transforming millions of pristine acres into [a] poisoned wasteland. Eco-genocide for profit. Monsanto’s dirty hands are hugely involved.”
In the last 30 years, the takeover of domestic agriculture by GMO crops has been part of U.S. war efforts. Following the U.S. “shock-and-awe” bombing of Iraq in 2003, L. Paul Bremer—the U.S.-appointed administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq—issued Order 81. Officially titled “Amendments to Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law,” the edict prohibited farmers from saving seeds from genetically engineered crops, and made it illegal for them to replant those seeds, thereby serving as enforcer of Monsanto’s patents.
And so, the United States systematically dumps cheap genetically engineered products saturated with pesticides on foreign markets, undermining local producers and forcing them to purchase the patented seeds from the company manufacturing them, along with the pesticides needed to kill off the plants’ weedy competitors. Uprooted from their lands, local producers become dependent on the United States and its corporations, and many try to flee across the border to the United States.
“The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) is [sic] helping biotech run the latest war in Ukraine,” writes Christina Sarich in Natural Society. “Make no mistake that what is happening in the Ukraine now is deeply tied to the interests of Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, and other big players in the poison food game.”
Exposed by the California-based Oakland Institute in 2014, the World Bank and IMF provided a loan of $17 billion to Ukraine.
Hidden from mainstream media exposure in the U.S., the World Bank and IMF loan “has opened up Ukraine to major corporate inroads,” writes Joyce Nelson in The Ecologist. “Loan conditions are forcing the deeply indebted country to open up to GMO crops, and lift the ban on private sector land ownership. U.S. corporations are jubilant at the ‘goldmine’ that awaits them.”
It is worth reading more from this 2014 report in The Ecologist—years before Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The information provided is shocking—and unreported here in the U.S. While some in the U.S. understand that the 2014 political battles in Ukraine were over the expansion of NATO and control over energy pipelines to Europe, there was, and still is, an equally large but hidden global battle over GM grains, land ownership and usage, and “food pipelines.”
In late 2013, the then president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected a European Union association agreement tied to the $17 billion IMF loan, whose terms are only now being revealed.
Writing in The Ecologist in September 2014, Joyce Nelson examines the IMF-Ukraine loan packages in great detail. The next few paragraphs below are taken directly from that report:
Instead, Yanukovych chose a Russian aid package worth $15 billion plus a discount on Russian natural gas. His decision was a major factor in the ensuing deadly protests that led to his ouster from office in February 2014 and the ongoing crisis.
According to the Oakland Institute, “Whereas Ukraine does not allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, Article 404 of the EU agreement, which relates to agriculture, includes a clause that has generally gone unnoticed: it indicates, among other things, that both parties will cooperate to extend the use of biotechnologies.
In June 2020, “the IMF approved an 18-month, $5 billion loan program with Ukraine,” writes the Bretton Woods Project. The Ukraine government lift[ed] the 19-year moratorium on the sale of state-owned agricultural lands, after sustained pressure from international finance institutions (see Observer Winter 2019)
A bill lifting the moratorium was passed in an emergency Parliamentary session in March. According to a May press release by U.S.-based think-tank the Oakland Institute, this coincided with mandatory Covid-19 stay-at-home orders in place across the country, “effectively quelling potential protests or demonstrations.”
As I had written earlier, it is complicated, with several different forces at play. We never hear about the Oakland Institute’s May 2020 analysis in U.S. mainstream corporate media, nor even on some erstwhile “Left” media like Democracy Now. Who would know, in the U.S., that “on April 28, 2020, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a bill into law authorizing the sale of farmland in Ukraine, lifting a moratorium that has been in place since 2001. This bill is part of a series of policy reforms upon which the IMF conditioned its $8 billion loan package.
“Amidst an ongoing economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented street protests against the lifting of the moratorium by Ukrainians who are overwhelmingly opposed to the law.”
The Oakland Institute concludes that “opening the sale of land will benefit Western agribusiness interests and oligarchs who will now further consolidate ownership of land and intensify large-scale, industrial agriculture in ‘Europe’s Breadbasket,’ at the expense of Ukrainian farmers. While conditionalities accompanying Western foreign assistance are common practice, the way Ukraine has been forced to put its land for sale has no precedent in modern history.”