Throughout military history cities have been besieged, ports have been blockaded in an effort to force an opposing power to surrender. In the Black Sea we now see this strategy affecting not just an opponent, but the whole world. Feeding the world today is one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Can we stand idly by while, to achieve his political aims, the aggressor sets out to starve the world?
Putin’s final throw to salvage something from his poorly conceived, badly executed invasion of Ukraine is a massive onslaught of the Donbas causing widespread destruction, using everything, including banned Thermobaric rockets. It is an overt act of desperation. Sanctions are beginning to bite and impact military resupply. Simultaneously he is attempting to gain control of the Black Sea and prevent Ukraine from exporting its much-needed grain to nations who rely heavily on it. What are his chances of success?
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is in danger
After Ukraine sank Russia’s Black Sea flagship Moskva, what maritime assets does the Russian Navy have available? One old (1980) Krivak class guided missile frigate, plus one in maintenance. A newer (2017) guided missile frigate, the Admiral Makarova, plus one in the Mediterranean. Also, six diesel attack submarines of which three may be active in the Black Sea. They have a few Raptor class landing ships they hope to reinforce from other areas until the two Priboy class I mentioned in my earlier article are operational. There are also reports that they are manning captured Ukrainian vessels.
Recently we heard that Ukraine is receiving a number of Harpoon anti-ship missiles that can be fired from land or sea. In the longer term, they may be supplied with Israeli Aerospace Industries/ST Engineering stealthy Blue Spear and Norwegian NSM anti-ship missiles.
Who needs the grain most?
Twenty-five African nations import more the one third of their grain from Ukraine and Russia. Fifteen of them rely on more than a half of their needs from Ukraine and Russia. Those relying most on grain from Ukraine are Somalia 70 percent. Tunisia 45 percent, Libya 34 percent, Gambia 22 percent, Egypt 22 percent, Senegal 18 percent and DRC 16 percent. Those relying most on Russia are Benin, Tanzania and Sudan.
Prices in all those countries are rising sharply. Some, eg Cameroon, are reducing their need for grain by using sweet potato to replace some of the wheat content of their bread flour. Russia is using starvation as a weapon of war again, just as the USSR did as detailed in my article “Holodomor”.
Can NATO respond by providing Naval escorts?
Tobias Ellwood, Tory MP and Chair of the Defence Select Committee recently charged NATO with “sitting on its hands”. He also tweeted “UKRAINE IS THE BREADBASKET OF EUROPE & BEYOND. The global food crisis will soon cause huge economic harm & famine – leading to large scale civil unrest. Let’s make re-opening the port of Odessa the international priority for the UK, US, EU, NATO & the UN. Or is Russia allowed to win?”
There will be reluctance to send major warships into the Black Sea and Turkey will, again, see an opportunity to gain support for its dispute with the Kurds to give their agreement. [The Kurdish view also deserves to be heard. They have been denied any control of lands they inhabit since the Treaty of Lausanne 1923].
There are other obstacles. Insurance for the merchant ships exporting the grain. During the Falklands War UK made great use of STUFT (Ships Taken Up From Trade). Problem solved.
Surely, naval escorts for this purpose must be supporting an internationally recognised humanitarian operation. It would require several minesweepers to supplement the Ukrainian ships plus adequate defensive capability to deter Russia from attacking a clear humanitarian operation.
Will Russia cooperate?
With Russian grain ships in such convoys? Highly unlikely under Putin. His mindset is on restoring the Russia of the past. He has amputated any chance of a modernised Russia cooperating with the West to feed the world and focus on the challenges that affect every nation.