Support increases for naval escorts for Ukraine Grain
By Natalia Drozdiak and Rosalind Mathieson (Bloomberg) —
Support is growing in Europe for sending warships to the Black Sea to escort cargo ships carrying Ukrainian grain, as the world worries about shortages and rising prices, according to Estonian President Alar Karis.
The priority is to make sure the grain gets to Africa and other developing countries, Karis said in an interview Tuesday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Russia has effectively blocked Ukrainian ports as part of its invasion, leaving the government in kyiv to struggle to get grain shipments out and sending prices to near record highs. The head of the UN’s World Food Program David Beasley said the shutdown is a “declaration of war” that threatens to trigger mass migration and a global food crisis.
Ukraine seeks ways to evacuate grain
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told The Guardian newspaper that his country was looking for a “goodwill” naval coalition. Britain is in talks with allies about sending warships to the Black Sea, The Times newspaper reported. A government spokesman said the UK would continue to work with other countries to find ways to resume the export of grain from Ukraine, but added “there are currently no plan to deploy British warships to the Black Sea”.
The Montreux Agreement of 1936 allows Turkey to regulate maritime traffic through the Bosphorus Strait to the Black Sea in times of peace as well as in times of war.
Karis said he had been calling for naval escorts for grain carriers for some time, but “not everyone was convinced it was a good idea.” The concern, he said, was that it “could escalate the war in the Black Sea. But it looks like it will work.
By blocking Ukraine’s ports, Russia forced it to try to ship grain overland, resulting in exports of only about a fifth of its usual potential volumes. But his field campaign failed and he failed to take key ports like Odessa, while his flagship Black Sea Fleet warship sank.
“The UK and a few others will probably join us because it’s a humanitarian crisis we face if the grain doesn’t get out of the country,” Karis said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia was stealing grain from occupied areas.
Russia and Ukraine are the world’s main suppliers of wheat and sunflower oil. Ukraine also ranks among the top six exporters of corn, chicken and honey. It has traditionally shipped millions of tons of grain annually via the Black Sea, deriving around 10% of its gross domestic product from the agriculture and food sector.
Karis was cautious about describing the potential naval protection of ships as an alliance operation. “Not necessarily a NATO operation, but let’s say NATO countries.”
Members of the military alliance were initially wary of shipping offensive weapons to Ukraine to help it retaliate against Russia, fearing it would draw them into direct conflict with Moscow. But that concern eased as the war progressed, with the United States and other allies now sending heavy weapons to Ukraine, including armored vehicles and more artillery batteries.
Karis said he was not worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin would try to expand his war beyond Ukraine.
“We have seen that Russia is quite poorly prepared for this kind of war, so I don’t expect them to manage to go to different countries, whether it’s Moldova or another country,” he said. he declared. “At least right now, from an Estonian point of view, we feel pretty safe.”
But he echoed calls from other Baltic countries for a greater NATO presence in eastern Europe, even if Finland and Sweden manage to join the alliance.
“We’ve seen that kind of deterrence doesn’t work, which we used to do, and the security situation is different now,” he said. “We are looking for permanent troops in our region. Same with weapons.
–With the help of Kitty Donaldson.
© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.