US authorities are in talks with Turkey, Ukraine and its neighboring countries about using more alternative routes to export Ukrainian grain. The Wall Street Journal quoted US officials as saying that the sides started looking for a way out after Russia withdrew from the agreement that guaranteed the safety of food supplies via the Black Sea.
The plan, which Washington backs, calls for establishing an additional export route for 4 million tons of grain a month across the Danube by October. Most of the grain would be shipped downriver and across the Black Sea to nearby ports in Romania, from where it would be transported to other countries. Despite the longer and more expensive journey, this route could be an alternative to the Black Sea corridor.
At the same time, the US is considering all possible options, including military solutions to protect ships working with Ukrainian ports, the WSJ source said. He declined to specify the details of these options or name the countries that might be involved.
The U.S. plans would rely in part on a European Union initiative to create road, highway and sea routes, known as “solidarity corridors”, to allow the unimpeded movement of grain and other cargo into and out of Ukraine. European officials allow a scenario in which Ukraine would be able to export 5-5.5 million tons of grain per month. The highest volume of grain transported thanks to EU routes was 4.2 million tons in November. The Danube route accounts for most of these exports, about 60%, EU officials said. The Black Sea “grain corridor” at its peak allowed Ukraine to export about 6 million tons of grain a month from three ports near Odesa.
The planning of alternative routes is a sign that the U.S., Ukraine and European countries are preparing for a scenario in which Russia does not rejoin the agreement to transport Ukraine’s summer and fall harvests. “The reality is that Russia has decided to attack the world’s food supply routes, and until it completes its attack, it will be difficult to get them [back to the negotiating table. – TMT]”, a Washington-based WSJ interlocutor said.
Turkey and the UN are trying in parallel to convince Russia to return to the grain agreement. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan helped broker the agreement last year and is now expected to make progress before the Ukrainian grain harvest begins in early September, diplomats said.