ArticlesUkraine's struggle for grain. From a grain deal with...

Ukraine’s struggle for grain. From a grain deal with Russia to new export routes without Russia

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Russian aggression presents a substantial risk to the viability of alternative routes for Ukrainian grain exports. A recent attack on a grain hangar located along the Danube River in Reni resulted in six people being injured, three grain warehouses catching fire, and several fuel tankers suffered damage. The Danube River has become a vital economic lifeline for Ukraine, and the unprecedented attacks have made it more difficult for Ukraine to export its grain.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky uses for the first time what Ukraine has obtained at the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 11-12; namely, Kiev requested a NATO-Ukraine Council meeting at the ambassadorial level. The main focus of this Council meeting will be to address security concerns related to the Black Sea, particularly the creation of a corridor for Ukrainian grain exports.

For the past week, Russia has been launching attacks on port infrastructure in the Odessa region. These attacks have resulted in casualties, extensive destruction, and the loss of tens of thousands of tonnes of grain. The series of attacks began shortly after Moscow withdrew from the agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain exports across the Black Sea.

As a result of Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea to vessels carrying wheat from Odessa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhniysk, Ukraine redirected its attention to utilizing Danube ports.

However, similar to their response after halting wheat exports from the north-west, Moscow initiated bombings on the Danube ports of Izmail and Reni, which are located just a few kilometers away from the Romanian border. This incident sheds light on the aerial confrontation between Ukrainian anti-aircraft units and the Shahed-136 drones deployed by the Russians in their attempt to destroy the grain silos.

According to Oleksandr Tarnavskii, the commander of Ukrainian forces in the south, the Russians are experiencing significant casualties from the Ukrainian counteroffensive. However, the progress of the Ukrainian forces is slow, partly due to Russia’s substantial advantage in electronic warfare, which Ukraine lacks the capability to counter effectively. This disadvantage is particularly evident in Odessa, Reni and Izmail which have been heavily targeted by repeated Russian attacks in recent days.

Currently, Russia possesses powerful systems that disrupt the operations of the Ukrainian defense forces. These systems are plentiful, and Russia is using them extensively to supplement Iranian Shahed drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, especially in ports where large quantities of grain are stored. If NATO allies were to provide Ukraine with more support by supplying jamming equipment (which are used to disrupt communications, GPS and radar systems, and other electronics) the need to shoot down drones with anti-aircraft missiles would be reduced. Instead, Ukrainian forces could utilize electronic warfare to force the drones to land or intercept them, thereby mitigating the threat posed by enemy drones more efficiently.

As of June 20, Moscow considers any ship sailing to Ukrainian ports to be dangerous. Cereals from Ukraine must thus find an alternate route, perhaps one that goes through Romania. The Romanian authorities alone cannot manage the situation at hand, according to agricultural market professionals, especially given that the quantity of grain produced this season has been above normal levels.

Russia has made it clear that it wants to obstruct Ukrainian cereal exports. According to Moscow’s notice, there are navigational concerns in the Black Sea’s northwest and southeast regions. With the withdrawal of Russia from the Cereals Accord signed by Ukraine and Russia and mediated by the United Nations, any ships sailing to Ukrainian ports are regarded as having weapons on board. So, in order to transport grain, Ukraine is now planning to use the territorial seas of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

The territorial seas of Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey appear to be the most favorable route for Ukraine, given that Russia has formally warned ships traveling to the three Ukrainian ports that they risk facing harsh repercussions. A 40-kilometer distance from the shoreline is created by a 22-kilometer (12 nautical miles) maritime area that is designated as national waters, followed by another 22-kilometer contiguous zone that is under the sovereignty of the three NATO nations. The 370-kilometer-long (200 nautical miles) exclusive economic zone is located further out. Romania owns the Black Sea from Sulina in the south up to the Bulgarian border. Bulgarian and Turkish waters also fall under NATO’s jurisdiction.

It is anticipated that the United Nations would support the new export route with the help of Romania and the other two nations. Grain prices have significantly increased as a result of Russia’s decision to leave the agreement authorizing the passage of Ukrainian grain.

Throughout the duration of the year-long grain deal, Russia has been unable to leverage it to its advantage, underestimating the evolving power dynamics. Initially, the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin saw the deal as a way to gain additional leverage over Ukraine and the West. However, Moscow’s role in the agreement has diminished, becoming merely symbolic. Consequently, Russia has resorted to deeming Ukrainian ports as legitimate targets and using the deal as a bargaining chip to secure more benefits and loosen Western sanctions.

Photo source: dsns.gov.ua

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