President Zelenskyy did not sell 17 million hectares of land to American conglomerates

18 August 2022
What was claimed

The real reason for the Ukraine war is that President Zelenskyy sold 17 million hectares of agricultural land to Monsanto, DuPont, and Cargill.

Our verdict

While all three companies have invested in Ukraine’s agricultural industry, there’s no evidence that President Zelenskyy sold large amounts of agricultural land to any of them.

What was claimed

The main shareholders in these companies are American Vanguard, BlackRock and Blackstone.

Our verdict

The Vanguard Group and BlackRock have major stakes in DuPont on behalf of their clients. Cargill is a private family-owned company, and Monsanto no longer exists as an independent company.

A Facebook post claims that Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskyy “sold 28% of the entire Ukrainian land” to three American conglomerates, Monsanto, DuPont and Cargill, and that this is “the real reason for the Ukraine war”.

It goes on to claim that the main shareholders in these companies are “American Vanguard, BlackRock and Blackstone”, claiming “these are the companies that create the future of civilization.”

There’s no evidence President Zelenskyy has sold land to these companies, or that any of these companies bear any responsibility for the war in Ukraine.

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Source of the claim doesn’t mention these companies

The post cites a report published on a website called the Australian National Review which claimed that “Three Large American Multinationals Bought 17 Million Hectares of Ukrainian Agricultural Land.” 

The article in question features a corrections note at the bottom which states “The 17 million hectares quoted was an error and its 1.7 million. Note the alleged companies don’t hold the land in their names but via investment funds.”

The article lists a Telegram message as its source. This message doesn’t itself link to anything about land sales in Ukraine, but comes from an account which does in a different message, citing as evidence a 2021 article written by a think tank called the Oakland Institute.

This discusses recent changes to Ukrainian law, which allows for the private sale of agricultural land. The changes retain an existing prohibition on foreign individuals and companies buying land in Ukraine, though they are able to lease land or buy shares in Ukrainian land-owning companies.

However, the article does not mention the companies listed by the Australian National Review, nor the figure of either 17 million hectares—which would equate to approximately 28% of Ukraine’s total land, and almost half of its agricultural land— or 1.7 million hectares.

Full Fact contacted the Oakland Institute to ask if it recognises the claims, for which we could find no other sources. In an email, policy director Frederic Mosseau said that major US companies and investment funds do have “significant interests in Ukrainian land and agriculture”, but that these specific claims appeared to be “fake news” and that it was “highly unlikely” that the President could sell such a significant amount of land. 

Monsanto, DuPont and Cargill have invested in Ukraine

Neither the article nor the Facebook post gives details about when these supposed land sales occurred. However, according to the Ukrainian agribusiness website Latifundist, none of the companies mentioned in the post are among the current top 100 landholders in Ukraine, the largest of which, the Ukrainian company Kernel, holds around half a million hectares. 

According to the land monitoring database Land Matrix, none of the companies or the investment funds mentioned in the post have made land deals in Ukraine since 2019.

Indeed, Monsanto itself no longer exists as an independent company, having been acquired by the German chemical company Bayer in 2018. 

Full Fact has contacted Cargill, Bayer and DuPont to ask if they have acquired any land in Ukraine since President Zelenksy entered government in 2019. A spokesperson for DuPont described the reference to the company in the post as “inaccurate and false”, with a spokesperson for Corteva Agriscience, an agricultural company previously part of DowDuPont (now DuPont), saying it had not bought any land in Ukraine. 

A spokesperson for Bayer also confirmed the company did not own any land in Ukraine. Cargill has not responded to our enquiries but we will update this fact check if it does.

In 2014 Oakland Institute did claim that, as a result of political upheaval in the country at the time, international companies, including “Monsanto, Cargill and Dupont” were among those “taking over all aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural system”.

Its paper goes on to note that, as of 2014, Monsanto and Cargill had both already been present in Ukraine for over two decades, while DuPont “had also expanded its interests in Ukraine of late.”

Mr Mosseau told Full Fact: “There is no doubt that Cargill, Dupont and Monsanto have major business interests in Ukraine (and see major profit opportunities there), but it is not through their direct control of the land.”

It’s true that these companies have played significant roles in the production and export of agricultural products. However, of the three, only Cargill was mentioned in the Oakland Institute report as being involved in Ukrainian land ownership, having acquired shares worth 5% in one of Ukraine’s largest land owners, UkrLandFarming, in 2014. We’ve contacted Cargill to confirm whether it still holds this stake.

Monsanto and DuPont were described as expanding seed and agri-chemical facilities. 

While foreign firms cannot buy Ukrainian agricultural land directly, we can’t rule out the possibility that these companies have interests in Ukrainian agricultural land through subsidiaries, lease agreements, shares in landholders or other means

But what we can say is there’s no evidence that they were sold millions of hectares by President Zelenskyy as a precursor to the war in Ukraine. 

Claims about investment funds also without merit

The Facebook post goes on to claim that the “main shareholders” of the three firms mentioned are “American Vanguard, BlackRock and Blackstone.” 

In the case of DuPont, it’s true that the company’s two largest owners are The Vanguard Group—the investment company to which the post is likely referring when it mentions American Vanguard—which has a 7.44% stake in the company, and BlackRock Fund Advisors, which has 4.33% stake. 

Bayer, which as mentioned bought Monsanto in 2018, also counts Vanguard and BlackRock among its main stakeholders.

However, Cargill is a private family-owned company, and as such does not have shareholders.

We’ve written about conspiracy theories relating to some of these investment companies in the past. 

The Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Blackstone are all asset management companies which invest money into various companies on behalf of their clients. Therefore, while it’s accurate to say that these firms are major stakeholders in various companies—including DuPont and Bayer— the ultimate ownership of the shares they hold belongs to their client pool of individual investors.

Image courtesy of Kyryl Levenets

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