May 25, 2022
By Nat South for the Saker Blog
There are several evolving issues that are being watched regarding plans and developments made by the West to open Ukrainian Black Sea commercial ports. A medley of articles has recently popped up on grain shipments from Russia and the grain shortage caused by the conflict. As always, these articles from the corporate Western MSM are part of a propaganda effort to portray Russia in the worst light possible, articles with little or no evidence, just allegations, skewed data or blatantly omitting awkward yet crucial information. This article outlines the developments and issues related to the Ukrainian Black Sea ports, where commercial shipping is trapped and NATO, as well as Ukrainian activities related to Black Sea shipping.
Bear with me as I weave around several distinct topics centered on the non-functioning Ukrainian ports. The main comments are divided in two main parts with an analysis on maritime elements.
Part 1 – Black Sea ports and crop exports
Statement 1: Russia is using blockade of Ukrainian grain exports as a tool of pressure on the entire world.
Statement 2: (from the Economist)
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Statement 3: “Russia is stealing Ukraine’s grain”. Nonsense and unverified allegations.
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Statement 1 and Statement 2
The Western corporate media are masters of deceit, by providing just enough information to create a narrative, but deliberating omitting information or background data that alters the narrative negatively. At first sight, this narrative is so skewed, and many will be quick to dismiss it as nonsense. I would be careful to do this as there is a broader narrative effort being shaped by the U.S., EU and NATO. The implication that there is a global food crisis looming solely due to Ukrainian ports not being able to export crops is exasperating.
Ukraine is still exporting grain crops via Romanian ports, which continue to operate normally, in particular, Constanta as reported by DW, (DW April 2022). It is predicted that 1.5million tons (mmt) of Ukrainian grain will be exported out of Romanian ports in May alone and it is anticipated that 3mmt can be exported in the near future. (Reuters May 2022), (Reuters 24 April 2022)
Although the throughput will not be the same level as Odessa for example. Even Lithuania has said that it can help to export Ukrainian grain through its railway network and ports. Additionally, the use of the Danube as a transportation waterway to EU ports is being done via barges from inland ports, along with proposals for the use of Adriatic ports, (HINA 24 May 2022)
Road transport is being used to take crops to Romania port hubs, it is not as quick either, yet it is being done despite bottlenecks at border points. The Ukrainian rail network is already under pressure with military shipments and the rail infrastructure has consequently been degraded in Russian air strikes and as such can only be used in a limited manner, (Zdopravy cz in Czech).
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Cargo ships, some will be bulk carriers at anchorage off northern Romania Source: Marine Traffic AIS. (Not all will be grain carriers) but this is indicative of the traffic congestion.
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The Economist quoted the WFP head who said: “over the next nine months we will see famine, we will see destabilisation of nations and we will see mass migration.” Moreover, the UN secretary General appealed to Russia to allow “the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports”. There is a lot of unpack with regards to the whole narrative pushed out just of late.
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Yet NEXTA uses different figures. Who is right? The main grain terminal in Odessa has 5 million tons grain storage capacity. Where does the figure of 25 million tons (mmt) of grain come from? I suspect that figures are likely to be amplified to create a more worrying picture.
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On a trivial point, once more there are aspects that don’t tally, 5 to 9 weeks waiting to get crops exported (NEXTA) compared to 6 days (Sky News 23 May 2022). Back to the bigger picture missing from the MSM narrative . Looking briefly at the figures on grain exports for a wider take on the subject.
Ukrainian grain production: 65mmt forecast 80mmt
Russian grain production: 85 mmt forecast: 85mmt
As Reuters reported this week, Ukraine still managed to export crops: “The ministry data showed that Ukraine has exported 46.51 mmt so far in the 2021/22 July-June season, versus 40.85 mmt a season earlier.” (Reuters 19 May 2022)
Frankly speaking, 22 mmt of grain will make little difference to the global shortage as it stands. Paradoxically Ukraine is paying for weapons provided by the West through grain exports.” Is it any surprise that Ukraine wants to use Odessa to ship its 70% expected export of grain crops and other products, as to be able to continue to pay for weapon deliveries? Ukrainian exports have largely transferred to Romanian, judging by the ship congestion seen on AIS.
Importantly, none of the Western experts or corporate MSM outlets have been able to mention the fact that Russia is the world’s largest exporter of grain, about 4 times the amount of wheat that Ukraine does, about 18% of global exports and this year is expected record crops harvest. According to FAO STAT, Ukraine was the 8th largest wheat producer whereas Russia was in third position in 2020, behind China and India.
These figures change dramatically when looking at data on largest wheat exporters:
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Russian wheat harvest could reach 85.0 mmt this year, and the country has the potential to export 39.0 mmt . Although crop exports curbs are expected. In fact, MSM outlets carefully muddy the waters by merging the two countries’ production and export data. An example is The Guardian stating that “The world’s 41 least-developed nations import a third of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia.”
Having ascertained that Ukraine is still exporting its products, let’s move onto the other disturbing aspect, global food crisis and hunger. In short, the global food crisis wasn’t triggered by the current Ukrainian conflict but actually started in mid 2021. Another aspect is that worldwide conditions for wheat are the worst in over 20 years due to drought conditions, (World Grain 23 May 2022) which severely reduced grain production & harvest.
“I share this because we believe it’s important for you all to understand that even if the war were to end tomorrow, our food security problem isn’t going away anytime soon without concerted action,” Sara Menker, chief executive officer of Gro Intelligence.
Yet, the chorus of the U.S., EU and the UN have conveniently jumped on the bandwagon of attributing the blame to Russia, as this article headlines underlines:
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Another headline muddying information to serve up propaganda against Russia. You know it is clearly propaganda when articles don’t even attempt to present a Russian viewpoint.
Russia is a huge grain crop and fertilizer exporter, so it is in a position to continue exporting its products. However, since the U.S. and the EU imposed sanctions, Russia is placing terms and conditions on exports and there is a sting in the tail. Similarly, to oil and gas exports, Russia will be forcing unfriendly countries to buy at high prices in rubles or stopping exports altogether, at the same time, encouraging neutral and friendly countries from the south to buy products at a cheaper rate. This has effectively hamstrung both the U.S and the EU and sanctions had already had a significant boomerang effect.
I have briefly tackled the narrative about hunger, although I am reluctant to delve deeper, as it is a bit too much for one article, so I have just briefly outlined the issues. Breaking down the artificial narrative step by step would take a much longer article and I think that there are others who are more knowledgeable in these areas.
Set against this background of Ukrainian breadbasket narrative, more and more countries are halting crops exports, thus exacerbating the food crisis and the EU member states are still encouraging farmers to stop production. It is worth mentioning at this stage that almost of the so called “international community” have stopped Russian operated, flagged or chartered ships from calling into their ports and shipping companies have cut services to Russia.
As already outlined, according to several Western MSM articles, Russia has contributed to a global grain shortage by invading Ukraine. This specific angle is being jointly pushed by the EU, the UK and the U.S. Yet, it should be classed in the category as the Washington administration’s assertion that President Putin is responsible for the rampant inflation in the States.
The sticking point to note is ‘unblocking’ ports, since there is an implicit reference to military means, giving missiles to Ukraine to destroy the Russian Navy, to enable ships to sail in the area. Another angle is outside intervention, naval escorts of shipping to Ukrainian ports. These aspects are discussed in more detail in Part 2.
CNN is the prime source for all disinformation, top class agitators, writing articles based on allegations. “Russian forces stealing grain from ports in Ukraine. “ As mentioned, the satellites images are from Sevastopol. What wasn’t mentioned that it is Crimea, part of Russia since 2014.
This media snapshot might well seem trivial, but again this is part of a deeper underlying agenda. Essentially, the Russians are stealing their own grain, produced and harvested many months ago, before February. The ridiculous assertions are now making the rounds in the media, even pro-Western OSINT are playing the game and even tracking the movements of the grain bulk carriers. At the same time, NEXTA stated that Russia has stolen about 400,000 tons of grain from the occupied regions of Ukraine according to the Verkhovna Rada. Absolutely evidence-free fact thrown in, no verifiable information on the logistical chain from storage to the silo, just a picture of a ship loading grain from a port silo.
Yet, most of the occupied areas is in fact Donbass, DNR and LNR who are now trying to get Mariupol port back in operation, which is described as part of the process of stealing more crops. Maybe they are also covering Kherson region in the figures. 400,000 tons is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall agriculture capacity in Ukraine. “Most of 1.5 million tons of grain stolen from Russia,” Ukraine says, well actually, this figure fits exactly with the report in August 2021 on the total amount of crops harvested in Crimea for that year, (RGRU august 2021).
This is the tried and tested method of shaping narratives based on satellite imagery and then creating a story based on it. Consequently, these kinds of articles should not be easily dismissed as nonsense and a pile of lies but seen as media tripwires. As these articles need to be quickly unpicked and debunked.
The Ukrainians are making the situation worse each day with their absolute malice for Russia. The allegations of grain exports being stolen is a duplicitous way of hampering Russian exports from the Black Sea, which would only serve to worsen a global food crisis.
Ukraine has asked Turkey to ban Russian ships with grain cargoes, (Maritime Executive 17 May 2022). Egypt and Lebanon recently refused a Russian ship to dock after being that the cargo was stolen from Ukraine, (the same ship as in the CNN imagery, that was also reported by that infamous Ukrainian ‘Peacemaker’ site). The ship is now in Syria. (CNN 12 May 2022)
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The above tweet is the Russian perspective in a nutshell. It is Ukraine that has shut down its ports on the 24th of February, by trapping ships in port and shortly afterwards laying mines along the coast. The bulkers trapped are simply not allowed to leave.
Russia has recently stated that Kiev is preventing 75 foreign ships from 17 countries from leaving its ports” (Russian MoD May 2022).
Part 2 – Maritime elements to consider
This narrative has been crafted for several months now, it first started by denying that Ukraine has laid sea mines to stop potential Russian amphibious assault on its shore, principally in the Odessa region. Practically all the Western media and experts rehashed the Ukrainian position that there were Russian sea mines. As stated in Russian MoD and maritime press releases, Ukrainian mines have drifted all over the Black Sea.
An estimated 200 – 400 anchor mines were laid around Odessa and the northwest Black Sea. Back in February some of them have parted from their chains in storms and subsequently drifted with the current southwards. A couple of mines had temporarily closed the Bosphorous to shipping transit several times,
One that was neutralised by the Romanian Navy just happened to be an old sea mine that have distinct Ukrainian markings, (Mangalia News 3 April 2022).
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Calls for lifting of a blockade
Now we have the grain crop blockade by the Russian Navy narrative, tied in with the alarms of a global famine, opportunely provoked by Russia, (as previously outlined above in Part 1). There are calls to have NATO ships to escort the bulkers in the Black Sea. Slight snag with that is who gets to demine the Ukrainian ports? Ukraine or NATO? Sending in ships will be a very dangerous undertaking just based on the risk of drifting sea mines, (more on this in the maritime analysis section below).
A naval coalition of the willing
The UK newspaper, The Guardian, mentioned that the UK is developing with its allies a potential plan proposed by Lithuania, to send warships to the Black Sea with the mission of escorting ships, exporting Ukrainian grain, principally from Odessa.
“Britain supports in principle the call for a naval coalition ‘of the willing’ to restart exports through Black Sea.” (The Guardian 23 May 2022)
Lithuanian foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis stated that “There is no way of storing this grain and no other adequate alternative route”. Lying through his teeth since Romania is currently exporting Ukrainian grain crops and even Lithuania has offered to help export crops as well.
“Allied naval forces will clear the area around the port from Russian mines to ensure the transportation.” Potentially, you can see where this all leading up to, with the added possibility of an UN resolution, and then organizing UN/WFP ship convoys, initially escorted by non-NATO navies, as touted by the Lithuanian foreign minister in his plan. However, the UK foreign minister, Liz Truss doesn’t share that vision, as she wants UK naval forces to participate.
Ultimately, non-Black Sea NATO navies will then have a foothold in the Black Sea and effectively turn Odessa into a NATO outpost.
D. Anti-ship missiles for Ukraine
Additionally, all this information campaign is being ceaselessly drip fed, but it is also building up to approval of more shipments of U.S. and NATO deliveries of anti-ship missiles to Ukraine to attack the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Although I suspect such shipments have already been covertly made. The UK Brimstone missiles are already in operational service with the Ukrainian military.
Liz Truss stated that “the UK would want British naval ships to join the escort if the practicalities could be sorted, including demining the harbour and providing Ukraine with longer-range weapons to defend the harbour from Russian attack.” See how a “humanitarian mission” is tightly dovetailed into a case for “sending more weapons”.
Right on cue, it is reported that Denmark will send Harpoons AsHMs to Ukraine, (Defense News 23 May 2022).
Part C – Analysis – maritime elements
The crass and cynical blame game implemented by the West continues. The West instead of getting Kiev to implement the Minsk accords in the first place, are now busy with a lot of evolving threats and crises, out of the frying pan and into the fire.
All in all, there is a snowball effect of crafting emotional fuss on by framing a narrative based on “provoking worldwide famine” and “blockading ships in the Black Sea”? Join the dots: Russia is bad. That’s not it really, there is also the perilous setup being developed, as mentioned in The Economist, of how to unblock Ukrainian ports? No crystal ball is required to see the possibility of NATO getting involved, another round of mission creep justifications based on R2P, as seen in Kosovo and Libya.
As such, the Western corporate MSM handily present a series of micro events on a regular basis. Each event is interlocked and designed to gain momentum, similarly to a rolling snowball, specifically designed to manipulate emotions, (akin to the Orwellian 5-minute rage) and act as justifications for certain economic, military actions on false pretences. Articles on the unblocking of Ukrainian ports neatly fit into this category.
There isn’t any physical blockade of commercial shipping from Ukrainian ports. Pay particular attention to this extract from the International Maritime Organization, (IMO) website:
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As this screenshot shows, Ukraine have set preconditions for ships to be able to leave Ukrainian ports, so it is not a blockade by Russia per se. Ukraine is holding foreign ships and crews hostage as part of its efforts to get more Western intervention and arms. The IMO, an UN organization confirms what Russian diplomats have been consistently saying for months now.
The U.S. Secretary of State is lying through his teeth and gets it hopelessly wrong when he said that “There are about 85 ships right now with grain, wheat in them. They can’t get out. There are another 22 million tons of wheat in silos near the ports that can’t get there.” Well, some of the 85 ships are in Mariupol, carry iron and steel products. Other ships in Ukrainian ports are tankers and other carry fertilisers. Blinken just lifted the IMO statement, out of context: “ […] 84, merchant ships remain, with nearly 450 seafarers onboard. This number continues to steadily reduce.”
NB “This number continues to steadily reduce.” Hey?! Anyone asking the question how and when?
It wasn’t Russia that hindered access to ports. Ukraine haphazardly laid mines in February and now wants NATO to clear them, but only once Russian troops have left Ukraine, Donbass and Crimea. Yet at the same, there is a food crisis and Ukraine needs Odessa as a grain export hub. Ukraine authorities making a wide range series of demands, that gives enough space for NATO and U.S. yearnings to be incrementally implemented.
Physical blockade by Ukrainian authorities of ships in ports is also mentioned in the IMO document: “Sea mines have been laid in port approaches and some port exits are blocked by sunken barges and cranes. Many ships no longer have sufficient crew onboard to sail.” It certainly happened in Mariupol and in this montage screenshot, you can see the sunken barges to stop ships leaving as well as mines nearby, (Video link Telegram 15 May 2022, video link 9 April 2022). It wasn’t Russia that physically crippled the port access and trapped crews onboard ships. Sea mines were found on land too, scattered around Mariupol, one was even placed in an Ukrainian minibus belonging to the Ukrainian National Guard (Azov), (Video link April 2022), but they are Russian sea mines according to Western corporate MSM and experts.
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Another aspect to consider is the issue of insurance and crewing of commercial ships. As mentioned by the IMO, a number of ships don’t have enough crew to sail safely. Even if ships were allowed in and out of the area, it would be highly difficult to have the necessary insurance to go into the area, given that operators and charterers will not want to expose a ship, crew and cargo to “War Risks” without the necessary insurance or contracts. Crews would be needed that are willing to go into a war zone. This is complicated by the fact that the Ukrainian government has put the ports at MARSEC (maritime security) level 3 and as such they are closed for entry and exit.
NAVAREA III warnings also confirm the war risk of the north-western Black Sea region. Despite this, the Russia MoD has stated that “The Russian Federation is taking a full range of comprehensive measures to ensure the safety of civilian navigation in the waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov”. The IMO blue safe maritime corridor is part of this initiative.
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Turning to another noteworthy aspect. Not a single Western MSM outlet has bothered to mention what the Russian MoD and Navy are doing with regards to the blocked shipping. As with the now famous land corridors, Russia has implemented a maritime version for civilian shipping. This hardly a blockade. This humanitarian corridor is part of the IMO’s “establishment and support the implementation of a blue safe maritime corridor in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov”. Likewise, there is no mention of a safe maritime corridor in Navarea III warnings, just drifting sea mines and a war risk area.
Consequently, a humanitarian corridor, (lane) is available daily during the day, as a designated safe lane south-west of Ukraine’s territorial sea, 80 nautical miles long and 3 nautical miles wide. The Russian Navy broadcasts this operation and location of the safe lane in English and Russian every 15 minutes on VHF international radio channels in English and Russian.
Zooming in on the blockade of Odessa, as a hub for grain exports is a trojan horse for the West to pursue & escalate its proxy war with Russia. Ukraine is going along with these mad hatter plans for long-range missiles and naval escorts. To make these plans palatable to the docile Western public, Russia is persistently being falsely accused of triggering a world food crisis.
Author’s blog: https://natsouth.livejournal.com
This article uses references to corporate Western media outlets and organisations, as it is easier to point omissions, manipulation of information, to show how the West’s infowar gets “hoisted with their own petard”.