Defeating Russia’s Food Blockade – WSJ

Army Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli


Tom Williams/Zuma Press

World leaders are raising alarms about Vladimir Putin’s food blockade in Ukraine that threatens global shortages and political unrest, but so far they’re doing too little about it. Credit US Gen. Christopher Cavoli for addressing the problem more forthrightly than politicians have.

“The problem of exporting or not exporting grain from Ukraine right now is an important problem not just for Ukraine but for the world,” Gen. Cavoli said last week during his confirmation hearing to become NATO Supreme Allied Commander. “The way we approach that would have to be a whole-of-government approach, which may or may not include a military component.”

Ukraine typically exports 10% of the world’s wheat, and the wheat harvest will begin by the end of June. Normally about 90% of Ukraine’s grain and oilseed exports move through Black Sea ports, but the Russian military has captured or blocked them and put pressure on Kyiv.

Europe is scrambling to find ways to transport the harvest overland through Poland, and then to other destinations by train or perhaps Baltic Sea ports. But the logistics are difficult to manage so quickly—especially when Russia continues to bomb Ukrainian rail lines. Truck transport is also risky, and the Journal on Thursday reported long lines of trucks waiting for hours at the Polish border.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi spoke to Mr. Putin about the issue last week. The phone call—like every other conversation the Russian has had with a Western leader recently—didn’t accomplish much. Mr. Putin blamed Western sanctions for the crisis during a call with Austria’s chancellor.

Moscow’s food block will cause trouble far beyond Ukraine. Spiking prices and shortages could lead to food riots and political unrest across the globe. Gen. Cavoli warned that the terror groups like Islamic State “feed on weak governance and food insecurity and corruption and poverty.” Mr. Putin’s war of choice has already sent millions of Ukrainian refugees into Europe, and a food crisis could push millions more from the Middle East and Africa toward the Continent.

The general didn’t say whether he’d support using Western warships to escort commercial ships out of the Black Sea, and a Pentagon spokesman said “there are no plans to use the United States military, or military sources or assets, to assist in the movement of grain outside of Ukraine.” Why not?

The White House is understandably worried about escalation, but this isn’t akin to a no-fly-zone in which the US would shoot down Russian planes if they fly over Ukraine. This would be an escort operation in international waters that would take no action against Russian vessels that allowed commercial ships to sail without interference.

If Mr. Putin won’t give up his block, what’s the better alternative? The answer shouldn’t be famine and riots.

Vladimir Putin blames his war in Ukraine on a planned assault on Russia led by US-backed neo-Nazis, despite evidence that Putin is ‘now mirroring the fascism and tyranny of 77 years ago.’ Images: Shutterstock/Reuters/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the June 3, 2022, print edition as ‘Defeating Putin’s Food Blockade.’