By Janet Ekstract
ISTANBUL- Russia’s termination of the Black Sea Grain Deal has led to what analysts and top officials from the U.N. and U.S. have deemed as a “dangerous” situation. For the last three days Ukrainian port cities have been bombed by Russia with strikes occurring in the Black Sea ports of Odesa and Mykolayiv on Thursday. After Russian President Vladimir Putin ended the grain deal, he said all vessels sailing to Ukrainian ports, would be treated as military targets from July 20. The EU labeled the move by Putin, a “barbarian attitude” with top officials and analysts calling Putin’s move a “weaponization” of the global food supply. A top Ukrainian parliamentarian who spoke to the Atlantic Council, said the only thing Putin understands is “force” and that his threats amount to nothing but a “bluff.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s President Zelensky on Friday reported on Twitter that he had spoken to Turkiye’s President Erdogan about the deal on a phone call. As Zelensky added on Twitter: “We coordinated efforts to restore the operation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Due to Russia’s actions, the world is once again on the brink of a food crisis. A total of 400 million people in many countries in Africa and Asia are at risk of starvation.” Zelensky said the implementation of Ukraine’s peace formula was discussed and the he requested assistance from Erdogan in getting Ukrainian POWs returned, especially Crimean Tatars. The Turkish president’s office responded on Twitter saying the phone call was initiated by Zelensky and that Erdogan emphasized “Turkey put forth an intense effort to make peace prevail.” The grain deal has been instrumental in keeping wheat prices stable but since Russia’s refusal to renew it, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that wheat prices have risen by at least 12 percent. In addition, Russia’s continuous strikes against Ukrainian port infrastructure has destroyed at least 60,000 tons of grain.
As Zelensky commented: “Russian terrorists absolutely deliberately targeted the infrastructure of the grain deal, and every Russian missile is a blow not only to Ukraine but also to everyone in the world who seeks a normal and safe life.” President Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak said Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s ports are “an attempt to destroy the ability to supply food to the countries of the global south.” In response to Russia’s announcement on vessels, Urkaine announced on Thursday that it will also view Russian vessels as targets. Then in a formal notification, Ukraine said all maritime vessels in the Black Sea heading towards ports in Russia and Russian-occupied territory, will be treated as “carrying military cargo with all the associated risks.”
Solutions are currently in the works with Ukrainian and western officials looking at all possibilities to continue shipping despite Russian threats. A senior western military official said: “We treat the Black Sea, half of which is bounded by NATO countries as though it is Russian occupied territory, like eastern Ukraine.” The official said Ukrainian ships with grain could move by hugging the shorelines of Romania and Bulgaria while its armed forces kept Russian naval vessels away with land-launched missles. Chair of The Ukrainian Security and Cooperation center – a think tank- Serhii Kuzan, said an international response would protect Ukraine’s ports and neutralize Russian threats to food supplies. As Kuzan remarked: “If we unite the capabilities we have with the U.N., Turkiye and our other western allies, then we can keep these shipping lanes open.” He highlighted the fact that Russia doesn’t militarily control the northwest section of the Black Sea where shipping lanes pass. There is a strong fear of worsening escalation and as EU foreign and defense chief Josep Borrell warned: “If this grain is not only stopped but [also] destroyed…this is going to create a huge food crisis in the world.” EU foreign ministers will meet to discuss the dire situation, Borrell said. He added: “It is a very grave situation. This consideration that any ship [is considered as] a war ship and so a target for the military activities of Russia, is a step further in order to continue preventing Ukraine from exporting their grains.”Borrell said: “The ministers will have to discuss how to proceed, but there is only one solution: to increase the military support to Ukraine. If they are being bombed, we have to provide anti-aerial capacities.”