Guardians of the Grain Corridor
Ukraine has been using a newly created maritime humanitarian corridor to resume grain exports from its Black Sea ports. The new corridor stretches out across the waters of Ukraine and of NATO states Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, and it’s already been used by multiple merchant ships to dock in Ukraine and safely transport Ukrainian grain to distant shores. Russian naval ships have so far been kept away from the corridor by Ukraine’s recent military successes in the Black Sea and in occupied Crimea, while navigation is also being protected by onshore defense systems. Even so, this has been going on against the backdrop of Russia’s persistent attacks against Ukraine’s export capabilities by means of the constant bombardment of port infrastructure and grain facilities.
Turkey and the UN would argue that fully ensuring export security hinges on reinvigorating the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) and getting Russia to return to it—a scenario for which both have been working. However, the reality is that Russia doesn’t seem to have any interest whatsoever in returning to the BSGI, as evinced by the inflexibility it’s been displaying in negotiations and also by its unrelenting attacks on Ukrainian ports. It was the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell who stated that “it seems that there is no possibility of reaching an agreement, because I strongly believe they do not want this agreement.” Borrell’s words should not be underestimated.
So, assuming Russia will indeed not return to the BSGI, dissuading Moscow from attacks on port infrastructure and interfering with the humanitarian corridor becomes the priority. The West should thus carry on supplying Ukraine with all the assistance it needs to further strengthen its littoral defenses against air and sea threats, as well as to bolster its successful military campaign in the Black Sea and in occupied Crimea. A strengthened Ukrainian regional military posture would do much for ensuring export security.
However, Ukrainian ports and waters could additionally be protected by means other than arms: namely, by the creation of conditions by which Russia’s strategic and diplomatic interests would be gravely harmed in case it attacked Ukraine’s sea exports—which would compel Russia to think twice before engaging in such a course of action. This could be done by involving into the corridor a number of trustworthy states that are interested in Ukrainian grain and which Russia would not dare affront or aggravate. Such states would need to have a vested interest in the success of Ukrainian food exports, and they should furthermore be states on which Russia depends, and whom it wants to please.
The participation of such states in the corridor by means of a formal agreement created for the effect should tend to dissuade threats against export security. Moreover, those states could be going into the corridor specifically to cooperate with Kyiv on safeguarding Ukrainian exports and affirming the peaceful nature and the humanitarian indispensability of the same corridor. That should further inhibit interferences by Russia.
What states could be eligible for such a role? First and foremost, Turkey, which is demonstrably dedicated to the continuity of Ukrainian maritime exports while also holding sway over Moscow. However, the fact is that there are, on par with Turkey, many other states meeting the necessary requirements. It’s a matter of looking at the rest of the Global South: to all the African, Asian and Latin-American states which have been hurt by the disruptions in Ukrainian exports and which additionally are states with whom Moscow doesn’t want to create tensions or conflicts.
It is after all in the Global South that an ever more isolated Russia finds most of its remaining partners and, for all practical effects, the large majority of countries that are still available to keep cordial ties with Moscow. This means that Russia depends on Africa, Asia and Latin America and that it can’t risk harming the relations it’s established in those regions of the globe.
Furthermore, countries in the Global South need the full reinvigoration of Ukrainian exports. These are developing countries, which need the market stability and the regional tranquility that are ensured by the unimpeded flow of Ukrainian food to global markets, and which have been especially afflicted by the recent disruptions in Ukrainian grain supplies and also by the related impacts in terms of heightened food insecurity and a worsening cost of living crisis.
Many such countries are themselves importers of Ukrainian grain. Some others benefit from humanitarian supplies of Ukrainian grain by the World Food Program and by Kyiv’s Grain from Ukraine initiative. And various others are emerging powers which have been trying to play a role on behalf of peace and stability in Ukraine - as is the case with India, South Africa, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and, of course, Turkey itself. Several of these powers are in the G20 and as such have recently called for the implementation of the Black Sea agreements on behalf of food security. And then there were also the calls made by India, South Africa, Pakistan and Egypt for the restoration of the BSGI, as well as comparable appeals by the African Union, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
It is thus probable that several Global South actors would be willing to cooperate with Kyiv for the corridor’s success. Ukraine spent the last months deepening relations with Africa and the Gulf, as well as the Indo-Pacific and Latin America, while also organizing joint meetings with actors from those regions of the globe. Why not resort to such contacts to bring the Global South into the humanitarian corridor?
Kyiv could, with assistance by Western diplomacy, establish a Ukraine-Global South partnership with a number of states from those world regions. Such a partnership could be premised on ensuring corridor security and a smooth continuity to exports. It could acknowledge the strategic importance of Ukrainian grain exports and the port infrastructure such exports rely upon, as well as the necessity of securing both. It could also emphasize the peaceful, humanitarian purpose of the corridor: that of feeding the world by the unimpeded flow of vital Ukrainian grain supplies.
And then, the partnership could take on the key role of monitoring navigation and port infrastructure security—even while Ukraine itself would still be organizing and managing the corridor, in the full exercise of its sovereignty. Incidentally, the monitoring of port security could be made to cover not just the Black Sea ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi, but also Ukraine's Danube ports, such as Izmail and Reni.
Moreover, the partnership could also publicly demand an end to all actions against infrastructure and corridor security. And then it could identify and document all such actions whenever they took place and publicly denounce them in all relevant spheres. Additionally, such a partnership could also include a framework by which to issue formal guarantees that ships and infrastructure would not be used for any ends other than the export of Ukrainian goods. The issuance of such guarantees by a partnership including states Russia wouldn’t want to offend should further discourage Moscow from attacking export security.
In addition, navigation in the Ukrainian Black Sea could also be protected by naval escorts. While such escorts should preferably be provided by Ukraine—for which the West should promptly supply Kyiv’s now significantly reduced Navy with a number of modern naval vessels—the partnership could also incorporate a framework for escort assistance by ships and small vessels from participating Global South states. The armed presence should be minimal, so as to highlight the peaceful nature of the humanitarian corridor.
Furthermore, the partnership could also take on the task of promoting the corridor and its humanitarian achievements to the international media and at the institutional level—as well as to shipping firms, so as to attract those to the corridor. And, inasmuch as it wouldn’t imperil people’s lives or corridor security, the partnership could also encourage participation by NGOs and media in the corridor’s daily activities. All this would make the humanitarian corridor more cosmopolitan and transparent, which would further protect it.
Bringing the Global South into the fold would put Russia under the Sword of Damocles: to attempt against the corridor would mean insulting participating Global South states and would not, as such, be a good idea.
In exchange for not meddling with Ukrainian exports, Russia could receive, under the aegis of the partnership, specific guarantees regarding merchant ships. Russia said it would assume that ships on course to Ukraine could be carrying military cargos. Well, if Russia really thinks so, then—and as soon as the partnership went into effect—it could publicly name the specific ships which it believed to be involved in such activities. Those ships could then be subject to security checks by representatives of the Ukraine-Global South partnership member states, so as to ascertain the potential veracity of Moscow’s allegations. The results should of course be made entirely public and formally communicated to Russia.
Wouldn’t the suggested partnership be an obvious answer to President Zelensky’s call for the world to support the revitalization of Ukrainian sea exports so as to save lives across the globe?
Furthermore, such a partnership would tend to be welcomed by many in the Global South itself, based that it would be on the resort to peaceful means for the fulfilment of humanitarian purposes. Moreover, it would endow those regions of the globe with an opportunity to take on a key role in the world stage in the name of food security and of protecting vulnerable populations across the planet - in what would be a moment of great respectability for the Global South, and for all states joining the partnership. Additionally, such a joint partnership to feed the world would tend to stimulate growing solidarity toward the Ukrainian cause in the Global South, and it could be crucial to win what is one of the decisive battles of the war: the battle for the hearts and minds of the Global South.