Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the world to the brink of a mass international famine that “will kill millions of people,” according to the lead U.S. official for global food security.

“We are extraordinarily close,” Ambassador Cindy McCain, who heads the U.S. mission to the United Nations Food Agencies in Rome, told reporters Tuesday. “This could move into the kinds of things with regards to famine and others that will really not just disrupt the world, but it will kill millions of people. That’s what we’re faced with right now.”

The ramifications of the war have already been felt in global food markets, sending the price of food commodities away from the reach of the world’s poorest countries. Those price increases portend real shortages, as the war takes the world’s third-largest supply of grain off the market.

"We fear that we don't have sufficient resources for the many troubled areas around the world,” United Nations World Food Program executive director Ute Klamert said last month. “At the moment, we already have to cut them in half in seven countries. For example, in Kenya, the Central African Republic and Yemen. In some cases, these are food restrictions of up to half the previous rations, for each family per month.”


Eastern Ukraine’s vast farmlands have emerged as the main theater of the war in the weeks since the Russian defeat around Kyiv. And although Ukraine has enjoyed some high-profile successes against naval targets — especially the sinking of the Russian Black Sea fleet’s flagship guided-missile cruiser, the Moskva — Russia’s naval superiority has enabled Moscow to blockade the Black Sea while providing logistical support to the troops tasked with attacking Ukraine’s chief port cities.

“This is a big challenge right now,” Ambassador Bridget Brink, whom President Joe Biden has nominated to lead the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. “So we are trying to work with international partners and others to help find alternative routes for grain and corn out of Ukraine, as well as to work with the other relief organizations to supplement those countries that had depended upon these exports.”

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of looting their grain silos, although “none of it has been able to be really seriously documented,” according to McCain, the widow of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain. Still, she did confirm that the U.S. believes Russia has decided to “use food as a weapon,” the latest war crimes allegation from an American official.


“The critically cruel thing that they have done is they’ve put landmines in most of the agricultural fields and ... the equipment they left behind, they mined that too,” she said. “Any ability to harvest what is coming into season right now is almost shot. And of course, with the dilapidation now and the bombing of the rail lines and the ports being blocked off ... this crop looks like it may not — we may not be able to get any of it out.”