Russo-Ukrainian War 5/23/22

Vineyards in Zakarpatska Oblast, 2019. (image via Alla Khayatova)

Lithuania proposed a naval coalition to lift Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, allowing Ukrainian ships to finally sell their wheat and relieve the food crisis that had developed in the wake of the Russian invasion. The proposal was discussed during a meeting with Britain’s foreign secretary. Though the British replied ambiguously, they did not deny the idea, indicating that it was just one of the many steps that needed to be taken to counter Russian aggression, describing Lithuania as a “front-line state” against Putin’s barbarism.

Food security resulting from the invasion has already become a frequently discussed topic between Zelenskyy and his African counterparts, particularly in the wake of the battle for the Donbas. Russia previously attempted to sell stolen wheat to Egypt, which was rejected. One of the world’s largest navies (and currently standing to lose from the ongoing grain shortage), Egypt could contribute to the naval coalition and several other nations with ‘considerable naval influence.’ That being said, Lithuania stressed that such a task force could not be affiliated with NATO, functioning as a humanitarian mission using military ships and planes to escort Ukrainian ships safely.

The ongoing food crisis, which has seen the cost of grain skyrocket, would impact developing nations in East Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia the hardest. With more than a dozen nations importing more than half of their wheat from either Ukraine or Russia, significant disruptions are expected as both countries continue to mobilize for war.

A naval task force ensuring grain delivery is likely not to occur due to fears it could trigger an Article V NATO response. If such a move were precluded, the task force would be vulnerable to attack; power would lie in the task force members’ ambiguity on whether an attack on the ships would trigger Article V. Though one could argue Britain’s navy, along with whatever nations joined the coalition, would be more than enough to fend off a Russian attack, the loss of life and risk for escalation would be impossible to justify for NATO which already faces struggles in conveying its defensive intentions to skeptics and critics.

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