EU obstructs UN efforts to deliver Ukrainian grain via Belarus to world markets. Russia and Turkey clear the way for Ukrainian grain exports.

BERLIN/KIEV/MINSK (Own report) – The EU is obstructing UN efforts to avert global hunger being caused by war and sanctions. The plan provides for the transit of Ukraine’s huge grain reserves over Belarus for shipping via ports at the Baltic Sea. The plan endorsed by UN Secretary General António Guterres is considered to be the only viable alternative to the recently blocked grain-transport via the Black Sea. Of course, the EU is not ready to allow the prerequisites for the plan’s successful implementation and to lift its sanctions against Belarusian fertilizer exports. UN Secretary General António Guterres is in favor of lifting these sanctions to secure the global supply of fertilizers. In a highly symbolic step, Brussels toughened its sanctions against Belarusian fertilizer producers last Friday. On the other hand, UN efforts to jump-start the export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea are gaining momentum. Russia and Turkey are paving the way for initial shipments from Odessa.

The UN’s Dual Approach

Last week, the United Nations made tangible progress in its efforts to avert the threat of a global hunger crisis caused by the Ukraine war and western sanctions. UN Secretary General António Guterres declared that “reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets” are his goals.[1] In fact, it will take both to secure the global food supply. Most recently, Ukraine delivered around 10 percent of the world’s global wheat and barley and about 16 percent of its corn. Russia, on the other hand, is the main wheat exporter, and Russia and Belarus together accounting for around 40 percent of the world’s potash salts exports, needed to produce fertilizers. Without fertilizers, the upcoming harvest will not provide enough food to feed the world. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the UN has pursued the goal of resuming Russian and Belarusian exports along with Ukrainian exports.

Solution in Sight

A solution for exporting Ukrainian wheat – 95 percent of which traditionally have been transited through Black Sea ports – is currently in sight. This export has been blocked by several obstacles. On the one hand, Ukrainian ports are either occupied by Russia or are being blocked by the Russian navy. On the other hand, the Ukrainian navy has mined the coastal waters to prevent Russian attacks from the sea. Initially, UNCTAD Secretary Rebeca Grynspan, followed by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths have described their talks in Moscow last week as “constructive” and that they had hopes for a solution. It is known that, in principle, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has agreed to end the port blockade. In this case, Turkey would in turn remove the Ukrainian sea mines and escort the cargo ships loaded with grain safely through the Black Sea.[2] Following intensive bilateral negotiations in late May, observers have hopes for a breakthrough in talks between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov tomorrow in Ankara. According to Russian and Turkish media reports, a successful outcome is imminent.

The Sanctions’ Shotgun Effect

However, it is still not clear how the second aspect of the UN’s approach is supposed to be ensured –enabling Russian and Belarusian grain and fertilizer exports. Both the EU and the USA can, so far, hide behind their claims that neither of these products fall under their sanctions against Russia. This is true, but it conceals the fact that, on the one hand, the transatlantic sanctions against potash salts from Belarus are still in force and, on the other, Russian exports are massively hampered by punitive measures inflicted on the transportation and financial sectors. The fear of further expansion of the West’s embargo measures is a supplementary impediment with a negative effect overshadowing trade. This shotgun effect of sanctions is well-known from experience with earlier sanctions regimes. It was not rare that they had even blocked humanitarian aid. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) It is now reported that Washington is prepared to counteract the scatter effect of the sanctions’ impact on Russian grain and potash salts exports. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., is quoted saying that interested companies could be granted clearance certificates.[4]

Guterres’ Belarus-Baltic Plan

The United Nations’ efforts are currently being primarily sabotaged by the EU, particularly with its plans to export Ukrainian grain supplies not only via the Black Sea, but also overland. Germany, in particular, is currently working on organizing Ukraine’s grain export by train via Poland and Germany. Shipping is planned from either German or Italian ports. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5]) However, considerable problems arise from the fact that the cargo must be transloaded onto other trains at the Ukrainian-Polish border, due to the difference in rail gauge between the Soviet Union tracks and those in Western Europe. That is so time-consuming that experts fear that only a minor portion of Ukrainian stocks will be able to be hauled out in time. A viable alternative would be the grain transport via Belarus to one of the Baltic ports, particularly Lithuania’s Klaipėda. Over this route, nearly two-thirds of a bit more than 20 million tons of grain, currently stored in Ukraine can be made available. UN General Secretary Guterres has approved this route.

“Categorically Out of the Question”

EU sanctions against Belarus are blocking this project. Minsk is willing to organize the transportation of the grain across its territory, demands, however, in return, that the current sanctions on some of its exports via ports, such as Klaipėda, be lifted. That would partially coincide with the UN plan to restore exports of potash salts also from Belarus for the purpose of again securing the global food supply. However, the EU balks. Last week it was reported that “the member countries as well as the Commission” consider “a lifting, as well as, even a relaxation of sanctions against Belarus to be categorically out of the question.”[6] Over the past three months, Brussels has been trying to lure Minsk away from Russia with financial offers. However, it is “conspicuous” that, following the March 9 sanctions, the EU has imposed new sanctions only on Russia, and not on Belarus. The Belarusian government did not react to the EU’s advances. It made clear, that attempts to drive a wedge between itself and Russia were doomed to failure.

The EU’s Priorities

Thus on Friday, the EU drew the consequences and imposed new sanctions on Belarus. This round of sanctions is aimed at companies such as Belaruskali, Belarus’s main potash producer, against the head of the company, Ivan Golovati and against its export arm, Belarusian Potash Co.[7] The imposition of punitive measures against enterprises, whose products UN General Secretary Guterres seeks to again make available, to avert a global hunger crisis, is a rare direct affront to the United Nations. It indicates that the EU places a higher priority on weakening adversarial states than on avoiding a hunger crisis.

[1] Sharon Marris: World hunger at ‘new high’, UN warns, with enough grain to feed millions stuck in Ukraine. sky.com 19.05.2022.

[2] William Mauldin, Jared Malsin, Evan Gershkovich: Black Sea Grain Talks Gain Steam as Russia, Turkey Eye Cooperation. wsj.com 01.06.2022.

[3] See also Iran’s Shift to the East and Hunger wird gemacht (II).

[4] William Mauldin, Jared Malsin, Evan Gershkovich: Black Sea Grain Talks Gain Steam as Russia, Turkey Eye Cooperation. wsj.com 01.06.2022.

[5] See also Die Hungerkrise.

[6] Thomas Gutschker, Friedrich Schmidt, Reinhard Veser: Buhlen um Lukaschenko. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.06.2022.

[7] Belarus: EU adopts new round of restrictive measures over internal repression. consilium.europa.eu 03.06.2022.

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