Use the ports of Mariupol and Berdiansk but only Russian ships would be allowed for sanctions; or the port of Odessa but there is a mine problem; third option, the ports on the Danube but they are small; finally, the passage from Belarus which for that reason is unacceptable for the West
Almost as if there was no war: Vladimir Putin’s announcement on
wheat, with the green light to use the ports on the Black Sea, in a few hours it brought prices back to the values of the beginning of April. The Chicago stock exchange, a world thermometer of futures, is betting quickly on emptying the more than 20 million tons – including wheat, barley, corn and various cereals – crammed into Ukrainian silos and destined largely for African and Asian countries.
After three hours of talks, Putin’s no problem whispered to Senegalese President Macky Sallascended to the residence in Sochi in the name of an entire continent, those two words seemed something more than the simple reassurances that the Kremlin leader had given last Saturday, on the phone, to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.
In Kiev, the announcement was greeted with a certain chill. The Ukrainian government talks about yet another Russian bluff: the fear that a release of ports, especially in Odessa, is an opportunity for the Russians to attack them.
But how can the Russian move on wheat actually work? What are the practicable ways to get cargo out of the Black Sea? The the most pressing problem is the timing. The cereals contained in the silos of Odessa, Mariupol, Berdiansk and Kherson have an expiry date: within a month, they could begin to rot.
But above all, once the new seasonal harvest is over, in August the problem will arise of where to store tens of millions of tons more. 80%, despite the war, Ukraine claims to have a good situation in the countryside and, soon, to be able to cram other large quantities of grain for export: it is not known where to put them, if the silos of the ports continue to be full. The wheat is actually already coming out of Ukraine, little and badly, through the railways (which, however, require you to change trains at the border, because the Ukrainian rails do not harmonize with the European ones), on the black market and with what Kiev calls the thefts of the Russians: some ships were photographed while from Mariupol they were exporting blood stained grain in Syria and others would have arrived – according to the Ukrainians – also in Turkey.
In Sochi, with the Senegalese president, Putin outlined various transport hypotheses. The firstthe offer of Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdiansk, conquered by Russian troops and which (Putin says) we are demining. Ukrainian ships now naturally cannot get close. And the question: which ships flying international flags could dock in these ports, which fall under the trade bans imposed by Western sanctions? The only way would be to use Russian ships again (to take out Ukrainian wheat, that is, stolen), it only targets African or Middle Eastern countries that have not voted on sanctions against Moscow and can therefore receive the loads.
Another Russian proposal to use the Odessa port, still under Ukrainian controlparalyzed by weeks of military siege by the Moscow Navy. If Putin’s ships were to leave, it would remain for the problem of mines, which according to the Russians were placed mainly by the Ukrainians (while the Ukrainians claim the opposite). A demining would be possible with the intervention of other countries, such as Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania or Italy, but the delicate question: it would be NATO contingents, and the times would still be too long to prevent food from rotting.
Third idea of the Tsar, the use of river ports towards the Danube. There are four, but old and small, and they do not offer great possibilities: it is estimated that they can guarantee the export of no more than 300 thousand tons per month. The same goes for road transport: the price of fuel skyrockets, at customs towards Warsaw and Chisinau the trucks queue for days, there is the problem of security checks (in the past, it was discovered, even loads traveled with wheat weapons and drugs, as well as Asian migrants that the mafias have never stopped passing through Ukraine). The thirteen motorways leading to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania cannot currently guarantee more than 20 thousand tons a day, compared to 50 thousand tons before the invasion.
Finally, here is the Belarus hypothesis. Putin has been shaking it since the beginning of the food crisis: we use the streets of Minsk to bring the grain to the Baltic Sea and then to Europe. But Kiev does not like the hypothesis: the loads would always remain under the control of Moscow, in regions full of Russian troops, under the eye of a regime allied with the invaders. Moreover, the Belarusian dictator Aleksandar Lukashenko, who saw the Russian leader a few days ago, was very clear: ok with the passage of Ukrainian wheat, but only if the West removes the sanctions imposed on Belarus for two years, after the bloody repression of the opponents, and only if the ships can also load Belarusian goods. It is a condition, obviously supported by the Kremlin, hardly acceptable: on Friday, the EU Council approved the sixth round of sanctions in Minsk, 195 important personalities and 35 regime institutions that cannot have relations with the West. What other avenues remain, then, to export Ukrainian wheat? No problem, Putin says. But the problems to be overcome still seem enormous.