Sri Lanka's interim President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday told the West that the sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine will not bring Moscow to its knees, but instead badly hurt the rest of the third world in terms of food shortages and spiralling prices.
The remarks of the interim leader of the crisis-hit island nation came days after the World Food Programme said that skyrocketing food and fuel prices, shortage of essentials and loss of income were pushing adequate food out of reach for over six million Sri Lankans.
Speaking at an international panel discussion on Preventing Hunger and Famine, Wickremesinghe urged all sides to agree to a ceasefire on the war in Ukraine and end further sufferings of the people across the globe.
"Our issue in Sri Lanka is partly self-made and partly due to the global crisis," he said.
In his address, Wickremesinghe expressed his views on Russia's aggression in Ukraine and its effects to the third world countries, questioning that whether sanctions are meant to assist in overcoming the global shortage or is it hampering the world.
"Do you think sanctions will help? it will only drag the prices up. So lets start with the doables. Let us look at the sanctions that are being imposed and ask ourselves if this is necessary. The sanctions wont bring Russia to its knees, but it will bring the rest of the third world to its knees,” he was quoted as saying by the Sri Lankan media.
Following Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine in February, the US-led West has imposed crippling sanctions on Moscow.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said that there are more than 20 million tonnes of grain that are sitting in silos in Ukraine that can’t get out to feed people around the world because Russia is blockading Ukraine’s ports in Odessa, the Black Sea.
"So we’re seeing the impact of this Russian aggression play out everywhere. It, again, may have contributed to the situation in Sri Lanka. We’re concerned about the implications that it has around the world," Blinken said in Bangkok on July 10.
Wickremesinghe, considered to be the frontrunner in the race for Sri Lankan presidency to be held on July 20, pointed out that just as much as other countries have granted Sri Lanka a sum of USD 14 billion dollars, 100 billion dollars is being spent on the Ukraine war by all the parties concerned.
"That cannot go on. Its not only the fault of the European Union. Russia has a responsibility too. They must call for a ceasefire and should not put the world for further sufferings,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said that the issues facing Sri Lanka with regard to hunger are man made. He acknowledged that after the decision to ban chemical fertiliser, which impacted the country heavily, resulted in Sri Lanka having to import 1/3rd of its rice requirement from overseas.
In April, the government of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned imports of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, to encourage organic farming.
Wickremesinghe said that currently Sri Lanka possess enough stocks of rice for five months and imports for three months. However, in the absence of a solution for the ensuing four months, Sri Lanka will have to depend on other substitutes.
Sri Lanka is also facing problems with the importation of fertilizer, as the country will require USD 600 million to import but as at the moment the government has only USD 300 million.
Sri Lanka's economy is contracting and it will be about -6 per cent this year, he said. Moreover, he emphasised that the loss of jobs during the year will be high, in addition to widespread hunger and the fuel crisis.
Pointing out that all this has resulted in political turbulence, Wickremesinghe questioned as to what other countries would do in such a situation.
"Asking people to tighten their belts alone will not do. We have to think out of the box, we cant be thinking in conventional terms. What we need is a solution," he added.