The Ukrainian wheat plan: Europe, the United States or a “coalition of the willing”

from Francesca Basso

22 million tons of grain are blocked in Ukrainian silos. From the US military to transport in the North Seas, the EU evaluates all options to avoid catastrophe

from our correspondent
BRUSSELS – The first freight train with a load of grain from Ukraine arrived in Lithuania via Poland, at the port of Klaipeda on 24 May. Railway company Ltg Mantas Dubauskas told Reuters that they expect ‘to receive one train a day from Ukraine, each carrying up to 1,500 tons of grain and other agricultural products’. Romania has made the port of Constanza available, but it is only 90 thousand tons per day. German ports have also been activated. But that’s not enough. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 22 million tons of grain are trapped in the country’s silos. The best way to export Ukrainian agricultural products that feed Africa and many other countries remains the Black Sea. But the Ukrainian ports, first of all Odessa, are blocked by Russia and the waters are full of mines.

The European Union is evaluating all options to avoid the food catastrophe. Last Friday, the American general Christopher Cavoli, commander of the US forces in Europe and Africa and the next commander of NATO forces in Europe, speaking to the Armed Services Commission of the US Senate hinted that at some point – reports the Washington Postthe US military may be involved to ensure the resumption of exports from Ukraine. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby ruled out “plans to employ US military, or military sources or assets, to contribute to the movement of grain out of Ukraine” and confirmed talks between the Biden administration and “international partners and allies on how to best address the issue”. Earlier this week, it was Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis who proposed a naval coalition of “willing” in talks in London with her counterpart Liz Truss, obtaining the support of Great Britain.

A hypothesis that seems to be gaining ground. According to El País, the EU is considering the possibility of a naval mission to escort the passage of merchant ships loads of wheat, however, neither from Brussels nor from Italy has concrete evidence arrived. At the end of March, the Minister of Defense Guerini gave his willingness to carry out maritime demining activities at the Romanian request for the purpose of prevention and safety of navigation. Diplomatic efforts are multiplying. China, accepting the invitation of the EU Commission, has offered to mediate between Ukraine and Russia to unblock wheat. And the United Nations is also trying to broker an agreement, backed by the EU. The obstacle to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request to lift Western sanctions remains. Furthermore, whether military vessels from non-Black Sea countries will be involvedTurkey’s green light is needed under the 1936 Montreux Convention.

EU leaders will discuss food security tomorrow and the day after in the extraordinary European Council. In the draft conclusions, likely to be changed (today the last meeting of the ambassadors to the EU is held before the summit) there is an invitation to Russia to end the naval blockade and the EU’s commitment to favor the export of Ukrainian agricultural products by accelerating the “Solidarity Lanes” put in place by the Commission. In the most recent version, a reference to the European Agricultural Policy has been added (CAP), whose importance is underlined “in the contribution of the EU to food security” and calls for “the rapid adoption of the strategic plans of the CAP”. The Council also “welcomes the Food and Agricultural Resilience Mission (Farm)” and the proposals of the UN and the G7.