Speaking at the EU Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell left no doubt as to who he considers responsible for the coming “Grain crisis”. “The problem is caused by the Russian blockade on Ukrainian exports,” he said. The United Nations estimates that some 20 million tonnes of grain remains in Ukrainian warehouses and cannot be sold to those in need, especially in Africa.
EU, UN . Answering a relevant question from DW, Josep Borrell points out: “I hope that no one will be able to resist the pressure exerted by the international community in this direction. It is unthinkable for millions of tons of grain to be trapped in Ukraine when the rest of the world is hungry. This is a war crime for which Russia must be held accountable. “One can not use hunger as a weapon.”
Moscow’s assurances and Turkish mediation
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that the West is responsible for the grain crisis because of the sanctions it has imposed on Russia. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assures that Russia will “enable” the Ukrainians to export grain from their ports. At the same time, however, the Ukrainians accuse the Russians of stealing much of the production from the war zones or the occupied Ukrainian territories, in order to transport it to Russia. Turkey, a Black Sea country that guarantees free navigation to the Mediterranean under international law, says it is offering to mediate a solution that does not require the demining of ports in Ukraine.
The EU, meanwhile, is considering sending warships, which could escort ships with Ukrainian grain, protecting their cargo. Many are skeptical, as they would like to avoid a direct confrontation with the Russian fleet. “There is an intensive discussion on this issue,” said German Foreign Minister Analena Berbock in Luxembourg, when asked by DW. “The challenges are huge, so it is important to look thoroughly at all possible alternatives.”
Exports by land?
The head of the German diplomacy announced that an international conference on food adequacy and grain exports from the Black Sea will be held in Berlin. The issue will also concern the leaders of the G7 group during their meeting at the Elmau Tower in Bavaria at the weekend. Germany, Poland and Romania are considering ways to increase Ukrainian grain exports by land, for example by commercial trains, bypassing the Black Sea. Today 90% of cereals are transported in this way. However, there are practical problems that cause delays, as the railway lines in Ukraine are not as wide as in Poland or Romania, so it is necessary to tranship the grain at the border.
In total, grain exports from Ukraine have fallen from six million tonnes a month to two million tonnes. In addition, the Russian bombing has caused significant damage to Ukrainian grain warehouses. Europeans and Americans are now trying to set up temporary storage facilities near the border with Poland or Romania, so that Ukrainian grain can be transported by train or truck to major European ports. However, experts point out that this “bypass” could cause new increases in grain prices, which have already exceeded all expectations.