The Baltics predicted the suspension of the Ukrainian grain deal – and contributed to its resumption

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The Ukrainian Grain Agreement, officially known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, is a joint agreement between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey that promises a safe Black Sea corridor for commercial vessels to export cereals from Ukraine under the supervision of the United Nations. When the case was sign on July 22 in Istanbul, UN Secretary General António Guterres hailed it as “a beacon of hope”. This so-called beacon extinguished its light on October 29 when Russia suspended his commitment after accusing Ukraine of a drone offensive on his ships of the Black Sea Fleet. Although Russia joined the agreement a few days later and has since agreed with Ukraine to renew agreement, the possibility of a future withdrawal lingers like a haze. However, for those who had never really believed the deal was such a shining beacon, Russia’s suspension of the deal in October was less surprising. The Baltic countries — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — have long warned on the risks of cooperation with Russia. While the grain deal illustrates a case of working with Russia – albeit marked by potential failure – the alarm bells sounded by the Baltic states could actually force Russia to better respect these agreements.

Public discussions and negotiations on the grain deal took place in May as the world worried about global food insecurity exacerbated by the Russian crisis. blockade Ukrainian ports. Ukraine is a major global exporter of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, supplying 40 percent World Food Program wheat supplies, for example. While several plans have been proposed to export grain from Ukrainian ports, the agreed deal was brokered by Türkiye and the UN. He asked Ukraine to clear its ports and Russia to ensure the safety of commercial grain ships. At the time, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis proposed a plan that would have sidelined Russia instead. Landsbergis called on the West to provide naval escort protection for Ukraine from exporting its own grain when he met and received support from then British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Such a plan would have required Ukraine’s western partners to offer naval forces, but would have remained a non-military humanitarian mission. Russia was not seen as a player in Landsbergis’ plan at all; in fact, after talking with Landsbergis, Truss said the supply of long-range weapons to Ukraine was necessary to protect its ports from Russian attacks. The assertion that Russia should not be a partner has been consistent in Lithuania’s diplomatic posturing.

After Russia announced the suspension of the existing grain agreement in October, Landsbergis again called to make the West wary of Russia: “Judging by past performance and knowing that he is prepared to use starvation as a weapon, it seems likely that Putin will again try to blackmail the world by blocking the grain from Ukraine this winter. We simply cannot trust the occupier who steals grain from Ukraine to be honest in negotiating the export of grain from Ukraine. Landsbergis, a prominent politician in the centre-right Lithuanian Fatherland Union, has always been on the border of the West-Russia confrontation.

Estonia has also sounded the alarm against cooperation with Russia. Aligned with the Lithuanian perspective, Estonian President Alar Karis supported Mr. Landsbergis’ naval coalition plan in May. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas also firm summer on Russia, saying that only a military – not a diplomatic – victory should end the war. Like Lithuania, Estonia was skeptical about the negotiated agreement. Just two days after the grain deal was signed, Estonia’s top diplomat Urmas Reinsalu and Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur both warned that the deal could pose a potential threat. The two politicians doubted Russia complied and worried that the West might have “pseudo-hopes” of achieving peace through diplomatic means. Their concerns were not unfounded, and Russia’s temporary withdrawal from the agreement has borne out their concerns, although it may not be so clear that achieving peace by engaging diplomatically with the Russia is impossible or unrealistic.

The same attitude was reflected by Latvia when the parliament declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, citing, among other reasons, Russia’s missile attack on the port of Odessa one day after the signing of the grain deal. deputies sentenced Russia’s disregard for its commitments to stabilize global food security. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs also warned that engaging the Kremlin in diplomacy is risky. While saying that the international community should support the negotiations if Kyiv and Moscow agree to engage, Rinkēvičs added: “But at the same time, if an agreement is signed, it is a half measure and does not not include some kind of strict control over its implementation. , then I no longer have any illusions that the Russian Federation would comply. The three Baltic states have all criticized cooperation with Russia and are highly skeptical of Russia’s compliance. They all doubted the effectiveness of the UN-brokered grain deal and warned that Russia would not comply. These warnings always have a pragmatic value.

Landsbergis’ plan offered a solution in which Russian engagement was not necessary — not an ideal scenario for a Kremlin fearful of being sidelined. One of the main reasons Russia joined the current grain deal was because Turkey, Ukraine and the UN were engaged pursue the agreement even without Russia. As countries come up with alternative plans that do not require Russian involvement, the risk of disengagement could push Russia to meet its international commitments. In this example, the Kremlin feared that the Black Sea Corridor would provide Ukraine with an additional opportunity to import arms and ammunition, so it asked the UN to inspect grain ships as part of the Russian demand in the agreement. If, alternatively, Western naval vessels guarded a grain export corridor without Russia, the Kremlin would lose such leverage.

The ultimate value of the warmongering posture of the Baltic States does not lie in the rejection of negotiations and cooperation with Russia. This could actually force Russia to behave better in negotiations and cooperations. Although the Baltic States are relatively weak, their membership in NATO and the EU can influence the strategies of these two powerful organizations vis-à-vis Russia. This does not necessarily mean that the West will not pursue negotiations with Russia; engaging diplomatically with Russia may still be necessary and constructive. The current Black Sea Grain Initiative has been quite effective in general, but Baltic pressure on Russia could continue to serve as an effective back-up plan. Like the West is divided on the road to future interaction with Russia, warmongering attitudes will continue to influence both sides of the negotiating table.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to publish well-reasoned, policy-oriented articles on U.S. foreign policy and the national security. priorities.


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