Russia’s Ukraine Grain Two-Step – WSJ

Ukrainian firefighters battle a blaze on a burning boat in Odessa port after rockets hit the port on July 23.


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If anyone believes that Russia has changed its war goals in Ukraine, Saturday’s rocket attack on Odessa says otherwise. The missiles struck a day after Moscow and Kyiv agreed to ship Ukrainian grain through Russia’s Black Sea blockade.

Friday’s deal followed months of talks brokered by the United Nations and Turkey. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “All parties have made clear commitments at the global level to ensure the safe transportation of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets.” The agreement includes commitments that neither party will attack port facilities, merchant ships or civilian vessels to transport grain. So much for that.

The deal was not an act of Russian charity. It was probably aimed at deterring a US-led naval escort from Ukrainian grain exports. Pressure for such an effort mounted as food shortages mount around the world and political unrest ensues. Before the war, Ukraine accounted for 9% of world wheat exports, and poor countries are among the largest customers.

Russia also benefits from the deal. The UN said the deal “paves the way for Russian food and fertilizers to reach global markets” and provided more money to fund the war. It remains to be seen whether Russia will insist on demanding a cut in grain sales payments in exchange for the Black Sea passage.

Mr Guterres condemned Saturday’s attack, but it’s doubtful Russia will face any real consequences. Ukraine cannot withdraw from the deal if it wants to sell its grain, and if it did, Russia would blame Ukraine for the food shortages.

The bigger message is that Russia still has plans to control all of southern Ukraine, including Odessa. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said recently that Russia’s war goals go beyond control of eastern Donbass: “It’s also the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions and a number of other areas.”

Ukraine’s defenders in and around Mykolaiv have held back Russian invaders from Odessa, the last major port city under Kiev’s control. But sealing off Ukraine from the Black Sea is a Russian priority that would neutralize Ukraine economically. Control of southern Ukraine would also open an avenue for a Russian takeover of Moldova, another of Putin’s goals.

All of this underscores that Ukraine needs more advanced weaponry to retake territory in the east. The US eventually deployed several Himars (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) and they are affecting Russian weapon depots and command centers. There is also evidence that Russia may be short on missiles, which is why it went to Iran for armed drones.

The West has so far provided Ukraine with enough arms not to lose, but not enough to retake its territory from Russia. The fastest way to an agreement is to convince Russia that the cost of the war will continue to mount and that it cannot outlast the West. That means Russian military defeats on the ground.

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Published in the print edition on July 25, 2022. Russia’s Ukraine Grain Two-Step – WSJ

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