According to U.S. government documents obtained by The Washington Post, the Russian navy now effectively controls all vehicles in the northern third of the Black Sea, making it unsafe for commercial shipping.
The document, based on recent declassified intelligence, analyzes the heat signals emitted by Russian ships, revealing dense areas of naval activity along Ukraine’s southern coast and parts of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia occupied and annexed in 2014. February cut off civilian maritime traffic, “blocking Ukrainian agricultural exports and endangering global food supplies,” according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the intelligence.
“The impact of Russia’s move cannot be underestimated because Ukraine’s sea exports are vital to global food security,” the official said. “Ukraine supplies about 10 percent of the world’s wheat exports and the lion’s share of that export – about 95 percent by 2020 – went through the Black Sea port.”
In recent days, world leaders have warned that Russia’s blockade is one of the deadliest threats to global stability since the start of the war. Ukraine is a global food basket. The country is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, the fourth largest exporter of maize and the fifth largest exporter of wheat.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that 20 million tonnes of wheat had been damaged in Ukraine. Russia has deliberately bombed Ukrainian grain warehouses and is “hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail,” he said, “withholding supplies to raise world prices, or trading wheat for political support.” Is doing. “
Politically fragile countries are particularly vulnerable, Von der Lane said, adding that bread prices in Lebanon have risen by 70 per cent and food shipments from Odessa to Somalia have been cut off due to Russian intervention.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken echoed the appalling assessment in a UN statement last week, calling Russia’s blockade a “deliberate attempt” to destabilize world food supplies.
Since Russia issued a warning to sailors in February that significant areas of the Black Sea have been closed to commercial vehicles, “the Russian military has repeatedly blocked the Kerch Strait, closed Ukraine’s safe passage, tightened its control over the Azov Sea, and closed Ukrainian ships.” And Russia has hit Ukrainian ports more than once, “said Blinken.
“Food supplies for millions of Ukrainians – and millions more around the world – have been literally taken hostage by the Russian military,” he said.
Russia is being urged to release Ukrainian ports for grain exports
For weeks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on Western powers to lift the embargo. In his remarks at the Davos Forum, Zelensky said that Russian forces were preventing Ukraine from exporting 22 million tons of grain, sunflower and other foodstuffs, which were “decomposing” in Ukraine.
“If we do not export [grain] In the coming months, if there is no political agreement with Russia through the mediators – there will be famine, there will be a catastrophe, there will be a deficit, there will be high prices, “Zelensky warned.
But Western powers have several options for ending Russia’s blockade.
At a news conference at the Pentagon on Monday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Millie, told reporters that there were no US ships in the Black Sea. The Biden administration has strongly opposed any direct military involvement in the war.
Ukraine is focused on preventing an amphibious attack by Russian forces on key coastal cities and territories, which could help Russia tighten its grip on the country’s east, where Moscow has concentrated its power after failing to occupy the capital, Kyiv and others. The main city of central Ukraine.
“At the moment it’s a bit of a stalemate [in the Black Sea region] The Ukrainians want to make sure there are no amphibious landings against Odessa, “said Millie, a key strategic port. He said the area has become a “no-go zone” for commercial shipping.
The Ukrainian military has achieved some remarkable successes against the Russian navy, sinking the Black Sea flagship Moscow with the help of US-provided intelligence. But those strikes were not enough to reopen Ukrainian ports.
The European Commission has proposed that Ukraine’s wheat and other crops be exported by rail, road or river. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
Denmark plans to send Harpoon anti-ship missiles and a launcher to Ukraine, which could help break the blockade and resume food exports. But according to military experts, it could take months for Ukrainian military personnel to be trained on how to use weapons and integrate them into the country’s coastal defense.
Intelligence has been shared with Ukraine to prevent a larger war
“Even before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, 2022 was predicted to be the most food-insecure year on record in the world, further complicating supplies from Ukraine,” said Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. , Said in a comment last week in Vienna.
Carpenter cited reports from the Ukrainian government that Russian forces had stolen 400,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat, as well as farm equipment, which had been returned to Russian territory. He said Russian forces had destroyed roads, railways and railway stations needed to transport export goods in addition to blockading seaports.
“As a result of Russia’s aggression, global food shortages are rising and food prices are rising, adding to the misery and suffering of millions of vulnerable people around the world,” Carpenter said, citing World Food Program estimates that the war could run an additional 47 million. People worldwide are suffering from “acute food insecurity.”
Commercial satellite imagery seems to confirm some of the allegations made by Carpenter and the Ukrainian government. Pictures taken last week and Russian ships published by Maxar Technologies are loading grain at Sevastopol, a port in Russian-occupied Crimea.
Russian officials have denied that they are trying to cut off Ukraine’s exports and have blamed Western sanctions for disrupting global food supplies.
“These sanctions have destroyed long-term, convenient, comfortable transportation and logistics chains in a single day,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in remarks to Oman earlier this month.
Without providing any evidence to support his claim, Lavrov accused Ukrainian authorities of “refusing to allow dozens of ships, including wheat suppliers from around the world, to leave their ports.” They have even closed their ports and dug exits, making it impossible for ships to leave. “
The Middle East Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, last week accused Russia of violating an international treaty that allows Turkey to control warships’ transit during war by connecting the Turkish and Aegean seas.
Four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Turkey launched the Montreux Convention, which barred Russia from bringing more warships into the Black Sea, but Moscow introduced the agreement using merchant ships – which are not banned by sea – to supply its military operations in Ukraine, the institute found. , Citing an analysis of naval traffic.
The report also accused Russia of stealing Ukraine’s grain “by industry standards” and using profits to finance the war.
“It is unreasonable that Russia was allowed to illegally blockade the ports of Odessa and Chornomersk to acquire commercial weapons, as well as to benefit from the sale of stolen Ukrainian grain exported from an occupied Ukrainian port,” the report’s authors wrote.
When the war entered its fourth month, there were few signs that the Zelensky administration or the Ukrainian people were ready to negotiate an end to the damage done to Ukrainian territory.
A survey by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology found that 82 percent of Ukrainians are unwilling to give up any land, even if it means the war continues.
Only 10 percent said they believe land redemption is worth the settlement. Eight percent were undecided.
Seoul’s Andrew Jiang and Washington’s Karen Deung, Karun Demirjian and Timothy Bella contributed to this report.