Timid West must draw a line in the sea and break Putin’s criminal food blockade | Simon Tisdall

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HHow much longer can Western powers delay decisive action to break Russia’s illegal Black Sea food blockade? The UN warns that this irresponsible maritime siege, now entering its fifth month, threatens ‘catastrophe on top of catastrophe’ for tens of millions of the world’s most vulnerable people who depend on Ukraine’s grain exports . Yet NATO and EU leaders are visibly floundering, disunited and distracted as an apocalyptic catastrophe looms.

Questions about the West’s response to the invasion of Ukraine – what weapons to send, if NATO is to act more forcefully – must be seen in this larger context: the need to uphold basic humanitarian principles upon which the United Nations and the rules-based world order have been based for 75 years. They are blameless victims of a man-made atrocity. It’s a question of decency, of leadership.

What Vladimir Putin is doing, right now, by militarizing basic food prices, creating artificial shortages and risking starvation and starvation among 100 million people from the Horn of Africa and the Sahel to the Central America, constitutes a crime against humanity. It is an act deliberately committed by a State as part of a systematic policy directed against civilians. There are no arguments. He went rogue. He must be stopped.

Ideally, the Russian people would do it themselves. Yet, out of fear, helplessness or ignorance, most now occupy a moral vacuum where a respected country once stood. So what are Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and all the other Democratic leaders waiting for? Putin exploits the waters of Odessa, bombarding silos and stealing grain. How many children have to die horribly before you draw a line in the sea?

Fear corrodes the will to act, even as runaway price inflation jeopardizes their national interest. Shortly after the start of the blockade, Lithuania, bravely overstepping its weight, proposed a “naval coalition of the willing”, preferably under UN authority, to escort Ukrainian grain carriers ahead of warships Russians from Odessa to the Bosphorus. It’s a perfectly reasonable idea.

But that hasn’t happened — mostly because Biden disproportionately fears a direct NATO-Russia confrontation, because the UN Security Council is crippled, and because Macron and Scholz oppose it. in private. The dynamic Paris-Berlin duo, aka the two stooges, still believe they can get out of trouble by urging Kyiv to give ground and making good on a monster.

Alternative export routes were initiated, mainly the expanded use of trains and trucks. But only a fraction of the 20 million tonnes of grain trapped in overcrowded Ukrainian silos could be moved this way. Meanwhile, with the summer harvest impending ripening and no place to store it, the endless diplomatic exchanges are going nowhere fast.

The blockade was discussed at Friday’s EU summit and a special “food summit” in Berlin. He will also feature at the G7 and NATO meetings this week. The talk shops are all very good. But with a reckless Russia running amok, concrete action is needed.

That was the lesson of British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’ ill-fated visit to Turkey last week which, like her trip to Moscow in February, came to nothing. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime, which buys missiles from Russia while claiming to be a loyal NATO partner, has, as one might expect, a double face since the beginning of the war.

Seemingly mediating to find a solution, Ankara this month gave a platform to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Moscow’s liar in chief. “The Russian Federation does not create any obstacles to the passage of ships or ships,” Lavrov said without blushing. Then the idiot gave himself the lie, suggesting that the grain would flow freely if the sanctions were lifted.

food has become a more potent weapon in its war with the international community than oil and gas cuts or nuclear blackmail

Despite all the angry condemnation, Putin may be winning, at least on the blockade. Some African countries seem convinced by Moscow’s propaganda that Western sanctions are the problem. Putin knows that the prospect of mass migration, triggered by hunger, touches a deep European nerve. In some ways, food has become a more potent weapon in its war against the international community than oil and gas cuts or nuclear blackmail.

The longer the blockade lasts, the worse things will get, in terms of food emergencies and political fallout. Import-dependent Egypt and Lebanon, for example, will face escalating unrest as queues for bread lengthen. War-torn Yemen, where 19 million people are already food insecure, is chronically unstable. For many people in drought-stricken Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan, the outlook is getting dire.

Is the West really powerless to stop this crime without making humiliating concessions? No, say analysts Bryan Clark and Bill Schneider of the Hudson Institute in Washington. If Biden and his allies such as the UK were a little bolder, they suggested in an online discussion, Russia might be deterred from blocking grain from Ukraine.

Specifically, enhanced deterrence at sea could be achieved using long-range unmanned aerial systems such as the US-made Gray Eagle strike drones recently promised in Kyiv. The advanced drones, which will be commanded by Ukrainians but operated remotely by contractors, carry Hellfire missiles and would allow Ukraine “to detect, track and locate Russian surface ships and, if necessary, sink them “Schneider said.

Raising the sense of vulnerability of Russian warships from the air could be enough to break the blockade without resorting to offensive action, Clark said. More sophisticated UAV capabilities could also reduce the risk of surface clashes with Western escort vessels. The Kilo-class submarines of the Black Sea Fleet could be similarly deterred by the provision of anti-submarine warfare technology.

To work, such kinetic solutions require a degree of political courage, imagination, and determination that has so far been lacking in the White House and Western capitals, as symbolized by the Pentagon’s last-minute delays in delivering Gray Eagle drones. This must change. Putin’s famine war is his new Holodomor for the world. The NATO and G7 summits must bring down its blockade and send it to the bottom. If they really want to, they can.

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