The United Nations and Turkey brokered the Black Sea Grain Initiative last summer between Ukraine and Russia, which has allowed grain shipments to leave Ukraine’s ports and pass through a “humanitarian” corridor safely.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative freed up Ukrainian agricultural products for export that had been blocked from reaching global markets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The increased exports brought more stability to the global food market, which helped to lower prices. Wheat purchased by the UN’s World Food Programme was able to reach vulnerable people in food insecure areas.
Several days ago, Russia interrupted the implementation of this life-saving arrangement when it suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. However, on November 2nd Russia reversed this decision and resumed its participation in the deal. Food prices on the global market, which had spiked following Russia’s suspension decision, went back down following Russia’s change of heart. But who knows how long Russia’s resumption of its participation will last?
“The Russian Federation considers that the guarantees received at the moment appear sufficient, and resumes the implementation of the agreement,” Russia’s Defense Ministry explained. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia reserved the right to withdraw from the agreement, which is due to expire later this month anyway unless Russia and Ukraine agree to extend it.
Russia tried to justify its original suspension of participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative by accusing Ukraine of launching a “terrorist” drone attack on the Russian fleet at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea on October 29th. However, in its sudden about-face, Russia credited Turkey and an unnamed “international organization” – presumably, the UN – with helping to obtain “the necessary written guarantees from Ukraine on not using the humanitarian corridor and Ukrainian ports designated for the export of agricultural products for military operations against the Russian Federation.”
The Russian regime is somewhat isolated in the international community because of its invasion of Ukraine, but that has not fazed Putin as long as his war did not alienate the countries he wanted to court or to at least remain on the sidelines. Some African countries, for example, did not condemn Russia’s invasion and remained silent as Putin’s war machine inflicted mass civilian casualties and destruction upon the Ukrainian people. These and other countries in the Global South have not yet participated in sanctions against Russia.
However, poor countries have hungry people to feed. They need the lower food prices and World Food Programme shipments that the Black Sea Grain Initiative brought about. But Russia’s precipitous suspension threw the global food market into turmoil and endangered what remaining food security existed in Africa and elsewhere in the Global South.
Thus, in order to prevent any seriously widening backlash, the Russian regime decided to turn lemons into lemonade. It pivoted and turned its decision to resume participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative into a propaganda opportunity. Russia sought to portray itself as a friend of poorer countries by claiming that it was working to ensure that they would receive priority as destinations for future shipments.
Meanwhile, President Putin’s war machine continues its vicious attacks against Ukrainian civilians. On October 31, it launched barrages of missiles against power and water infrastructure facilities in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and across other parts of Ukraine. Putin said that these strikes were in response to the October 29th drone attack on its Black Sea fleet in Crimea. “That’s not all we could have done,” he told reporters, intimating that more attacks could be expected.
“Instead of fighting on the battlefield, Russia fights civilians,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said. “Don’t justify these attacks by calling them a ‘response.’ Russia does this because it still has the missiles and the will to kill Ukrainians.”
Russia’s persistent attacks targeting Ukrainian civilian population centers and civilian infrastructure are war crimes. However, to the Russian dictator’s dismay, the Ukrainians have stood up to Putin’s war machine, even as he resorts to killing and maiming more innocent civilians and destroying their energy facilities as the bitter winter sets in.
Using long range and precision guided artillery, rockets and drones that have surpassed some of Russia’s own outdated weapons, Ukraine is turning the tide on the battlefield. It has been able to launch more devastating attacks deep into areas of Ukraine occupied by the Russian invaders. Even Russian naval ships in port in Russian-occupied Crimea are not beyond the reach of Ukraine’s weapons.
Before Vladimir Putin launched his aggressive war against Ukraine, he said repeatedly that there was no such thing as an independent Ukrainian nation. The Ukrainian people are really Russian, he boasted. During the course of the protracted war, which Putin thought would be over in a matter of days with the fall of Kyiv that did not happen, the resilient Ukrainians have taught Putin otherwise. Fighting for their freedom, they have been humiliating Russia’s military on the ground. Equipped with sophisticated Western weapons, including sea and air drones, the Ukrainian forces are on the offensive.
Putin’s power, and perhaps his life, hang in the balance if Russian losses on the battlefield reach a critical tipping point. Sheer desperation may lead Putin to behave in a way that threatens the prospect of thousands of freeze-related deaths this winter in Ukraine, renewed use of food as a weapon of war, and perhaps even a nuclear conflagration. But as the world learned from failed efforts to appease Adolf Hitler, appeasement of a tyrant only leads to more aggression.