UK Backs Plan to Escort Grain Ships Past Russia’s Naval Blockade of Ukraine

Workers takes corn samples from a loaded ship at Pier 80 in the Black Sea port of Constanta, Romania on May 3, 2022. - The Romanian port seeks to become an export hub for neighbouring Ukraine after Russia's invasion cut off its sea routes. Before the war, Ukraine exported 4.5 …
Getty Images

The United Kingdom supports a proposal by Lithuania to recruit an international fleet of naval warships to break the Russian blockade of Ukraine which is preventing the export of huge amounts of grain to the rest of the world.

Millions of tons of grain are stuck inside Ukraine and without it, levels of world hunger are considered highly likely to rise and may even trigger another migrant crisis. Such is the background to the suggestion by Lithuania that a so-called “coalition of the willing” of warships outside the structures of NATO could work together on getting food out of Ukraine’s seaports.

The remarks of Lithuanian foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, proposing the plan to build a naval coalition were reported Monday by The Guardian, which recorded him as saying: “Time is very very short. We are closing in on a new harvest and there is no other practical way of exporting the grain except through the Black Sea port of Odesa… There is no way of storing this grain and no other adequate alternative route.”

Landsbergis continued: “[foreign powers could] provide ships or planes that would be stationed in the Black Sea and provide maritime passage for the grain ships to leave Odesa’s port”.

While Landsbergis insists this wouldn’t have to be a military mission, ultimately minesweeping and providing a missile defence screen to merchant ships is a military task.

The Royal Navy could be one force that contributes to challenging Russia in the Black Sea, according to reports. UK Foreign Secretary Lizz Truss is reported to have already said that UK ships could theoretically take part, and The Times further cites Transport Secretary Grant Shapps as being in talks with the Ukrainians about solutions to the grain blockade.  The United States and Egypt — a country which has heavily relied on Ukrainian grain to feed its own people in the past — have also been named as potential partners.

Exporting food from Ukraine is a matter of considerable importance: Ukraine and Russia between them hold a commanding position in the production of many essential foodstuffs and agricultural products including grains, seed oils, and fertilisers.

There are several factors preventing Ukraine exporting anything even close to its peacetime rate of four-to-five million tons of grains a month. Russia is both passively and actively blockading the Black Sea with a combination of sea mines which can indiscriminately destroy military and civilian ships, and with warships patrolling the area. As Breitbart London has previously reported, since the intensification of hostilities by Russia several merchant ships have been damaged and sunk in the area — including bulk carrier ships used to transport huge volumes of grains — and with weapons including sea mines and missiles.

Food cannot simply be exported in such quantities by other means: Ukraine has an underdeveloped railway network that runs trains that aren’t compatible with the rest of Europe because the wheels are a different distance apart — a legacy of the Soviet empire — and the volumes involved would require tens of thousands of trucks to go by road. A ‘humanitarian corridor’ allowing food exports have been discussed several times but the UK giving Lithuania backing on building an international fleet is the first time there have been serious moves toward such a plan.

Using warships to clear minefields in the Black Sea and then provide protection for merchant ships carrying out produce from Ukraine is not without risk. While asserting the rights of all merchant ships to use the world’s sea lanes for lawful purposes — what is commonly called ‘freedom of navigation‘ — is one of the primary purposes of modern world navies like the United States Navy and the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy, it can lead to confrontation.

Open conflict between NATO members and Russia is something that is generally considered to be undesirable, with Western nations giving Ukraine almost every assistance short of actually pulling the trigger on Russian troops themselves. Ukraine has been the beneficiary of huge amounts of military equipment, including advanced missile systems, and military intelligence given by the U.S. enabled the country to pick out and destroy Russia’s largest warship in the region with a battery of shore-launched anti-ship missiles.

Nevertheless, actually putting British warships between Russian missiles and international cargo ships would resemble a considerable step-up in involvement.

Nevertheless, Lithuania — the brains behind the idea of sending warships into the Black Sea to escort food out — insists this shouldn’t be a concern. Landsbergis said: “This would be a non-military humanitarian mission and is not comparable with a no-fly zone… In this endeavour military ships or planes or both would be used to ensure that the grain supplies can leave Odesa safely and reach the Bosphorus without Russian interference. We would need a coalition of the willing – countries with significant naval power to protect the shipping lanes, and countries that are affected by this.”


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.