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Wheat, Politics and Power: The Global Grain Trade and the Internal–External Security Nexus in Russia

Civil Society
Foreign Policy
Governance
International Relations
Political Economy
Trade
Domestic Politics
Power
Kirsti Stuvøy
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Paul Belesky
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Paul Belesky
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Kirsti Stuvøy
Norwegian University of Life Sciences

Abstract

The global grain trade is a central element in what some scholars have described as the ‘global food regime’. In recent decades, the global grain trade has been dominated by the Northern granaries of the United States of America (USA), Canada, Australia, and the countries that constitute the European Union. Historically, during both the Cold War and post-Cold War period, surplus wheat exports have formed an important aspect of the USA’s international trade, foreign policy and food aid program. Russia recently emerged as the world’s largest exporter of wheat, surpassing the traditional Northern grain exporters. This paper examines the question: To what extent is Russia’s emergent role as the world’s largest wheat exporter reshaping relations of power, both domestically and in the global food regime? This paper provides a historically contextualised exploration of the securitisation of food policy in Russia and the complex interplay between domestic food (in)security, foreign policy and the contemporary restructuring of the global grain trade. With these objectives in mind, the paper is structured in the following way: First, we analyse the contemporary global food regime to provide a context for situating the politics of wheat in Russia. Second, we examine the extent to which the active role of the Russian state intervening in domestic and international agri-food markets challenges the notion of a neoliberal contemporary food regime. Next, we consider to what extent Russia’s state-led agrarian interventions — alongside Chinese state-led capitalism in the agri-food sector — are supporting an emergent third food regime that is characterised by both multipolarity and varieties of capitalism. Finally, we analyse the Russian government’s model of food security and conceptual links to notions of national self-sufficiency and economic sovereignty as central pillars of a national economic strategy. As part of this analysis, we link global political and economic developments in agri-food trade to domestic state-society relations. In sum, the article deepens the understanding of the state-led transformation of the Russian agri-food system — the implications of this agrarian change for social, political and economic relations inside Russia — and the consequences it has for the global agri-food system, including possible institutional changes and Russia’s power to define the food governance agenda in the years ahead.