Great national grain corridor: russias blackmail lasted three days. Ships with grain cruise again

Great national grain corridor: russias blackmail lasted three days. Ships with grain cruise again

These events finally showed that the grain deal is not about grain at all

Great national grain corridor: russias blackmail lasted three days. Ships with grain cruise again
Image: Press service of the Ministry of Infrastructure

On October 29, russia pompously withdrew from the grain agreement on the export of Ukrainian grain, and by November 2 afternoon returned to it. During this time, the other three parties to the agreement, Ukraine, the UN and Turkey, managed to consolidate, agree on the passage of a dozen and a half ships, and russia, to lose a few more points from its international authority.

As a reminder, the formal reason for the demarche was the drone attack on ships in the Sevastopol Bay, which, according to the russian side, was carried out by the Ukrainian military, under the cover of the "grain corridor". The Ukrainian side did not claim the responsibility for this action.

Why had the russian demarche been brewing "not yesterday"? The decision to block the Black Sea Initiative was not an instantaneous and well-prepared one: over the past month, russian officials have been claiming that Ukrainian grain is exported to "rich" countries, while the corridor was conceived as a humanitarian, not a commercial one – to help African countries. Complaints were also made about the success of Ukrainian trade, while the russia’s part of the agreement, under which the UN was supposed to facilitate the export of russian crops and fertilisers, apparently sagged. Ukraine earned about $3 billion during the grain corridor from August 1 to the time of Russia's Saturday demarche.

russia's withdrawal from the agreement – even worded as "suspended" – provided for the termination of the grain corridor.

"We work on the premise that the ‘Black Sea Initiative’ that was concluded between russia, Turkey and Ukraine with the assurance of the UN on July 22 should not be implemented without us, and the decisions and measures taken without our participation do not oblige us to anything," said Vasiliy Nebenzia, russia's permanent representative to the United Nations, at a meeting of the UN Security Council.

But this turned out to be only russia’s way of thinking.

How did the events of November 2 develop? The russian part of the staff at the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul was called off on Saturday, and they was assigned exclusively "remote" form of communication with the rest of colleagues. And on Monday morning, ships that were off the harbour in Odesa received a radio message that the corridor had been closed at the initiative of the russian side, it was dangerous to pass; they were ordered to return to their areas of riding.

However, half an hour later captains received the reverse directive. According to it, the previous notification had not been agreed by the JCC, the transit was allowed and the russian side was informed about it.

russia (on its own behalf) tried to insist that using the corridor without its consent was unacceptable, but to no purpose. On Monday, 12 vessels left Odesa and four more ones received permission to enter. Later that day, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan said that the corridor continues to operate, and negotiations with russia are underway.

Thus, the kremlin itself fell into a trap, overestimating its own strength. Withdrawal from the agreement, as it turned out, does not mean ceasing grain exports. The only way to prevent this is to create a real military threat, i.e. to attack humanitarian ships flying the flag of Turkey, one of kremlin’s last allies. Impossible.

On Tuesday, before noon, russia announced that it was resuming its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. russia’s Defense Ministry and later the Foreign Ministry announced that an investigation into the incident in Sevastopol had already been done, and the Ukrainian side had provided written guarantees that it would not use the grain corridor for military purposes.

The backlash was so strong that in order to reassure the domestic patriotic consumer in russia vladimir putin had to take the floor, saying that "russia can withdraw from the corridor at any time if Ukraine violates its obligations." "If in the future, in case Ukraine violates its obligations, we withdraw from this agreement, we will ship the entire volume that has been shipped from Ukraine to the poorest countries for free," he added.

What will be the political consequences? For two days of its absence, russia, besides its reputational losses, has lost another important lever of influence. It is about the artificial delay of the inspection of ships. Starting from mid-September, the russian part of the inspection team systematically blocked the ships' from passing the necessary formalities, resulting in the increase of the average waiting time from the initial 50 hours to 200-300 and even 500 hours. That is, a ship needed one day to pass from Odesa to the Bosporus and another two+ weeks of waiting to go further along the route. The record holder is the Patronus vessel that waited for inspectors for 528 hours.

"We have been monitoring the sea for 12 years and have never seen anything like this," said Andriy Klymenko, project manager at the Institute for Black Sea Strategic Studies.

During russia’s absence, the Joint Coordination Centre doubled the number of inspection teams to 10. Ukraine agreed to this, the russian delegation was "informed". As a result, the inspection of ships has significantly accelerated, although about two hundred ships have been still waiting for inspection.

Andriy Klymenko, citing an analytical note that became available, says that by blocking the corridor, russia pursued large-scale strategic goals. Restrictions on 15% of Ukrainian grain exports will cumulatively add 5-7% to the increase in food prices in the EU and the UK, which, together with the increase in heating tariffs, will bring inflation to 13-15% by December.

The resulting social tension could put pressure on the governments of these countries to revise their policies regarding the "special military operation" and russia in general. "russia wants to be talked to about something. After all, now it is not negotiated with at all," Klymenko says.

Such negotiations, which in theory could include a proposal for a temporary "bread truce", are crucial for the aggressor against the backdrop of his failures at the front, especially in Kherson Oblast. It is worth being noted that this is hardly a realistic scenario even in case of a prolonged blockade of the grain corridor, but russia has repeatedly proved that its perceptions of the world are very far from real.

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