The export of grain from Ukraine, one of the main grain exporters in the world, across the Black Sea has been halted since the Russian invasion. As a result, prices are rising and hunger is lurking, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Negotiations have been fruitless for months about free passage for large bulk carriers to Russian-blocked Ukrainian ports, the main way to get the accumulated grain out of the country.
The Netherlands has offered Turkey, which mediates in the matter, help to clear the sea mines on the shipping routes. Then Russia and Ukraine will have to agree on a so-called maritime corridor, emphasizes Ollongren. Neighboring NATO member states such as Romania and Bulgaria are also in principle more eligible to supply minehunters, insiders say.
The naval mines were laid by Ukraine to protect ports like Odessa against a Russian attack from the Black Sea, where Russia was lord and master. Clearing the mines is only conceivable if the security of the Ukrainian coast is ensured in some other way. Such a security guarantee could potentially be offered by third countries such as Turkey.
The chance of a breakthrough has also increased as Russia no longer seems to have free rein in the northwestern part of the Black Sea. The Russians evacuated a strategically located island there on Wednesday.
The Russian retreat from Snake Island could bring a corridor closer, Ollongren thinks. “But on the other hand: Ukraine has been de facto closed off from the Black Sea by the Russian fleet and that has not yet been solved completely.”
She emphasizes once again that time is of the essence. “The harvest is coming, the silos have to be emptied. It has to happen now.”
“We know that Ukraine and Russia both say: in this form it is possible,” said Ollongren after a conversation between the Netherlands and Turkey at the NATO summit. “But you really need the aggressor Russia for this and Ukraine must also have confidence in it.”