“Stop blocking the ports of the Black Sea! Allow the free movement of ships, trains and trucks carrying food out of Ukraine”, launched the head of the American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, during a Thursday meeting of the UN Security Council.
“We demand that Russia (…) unblock Ukrainian ports, restore freedom of navigation and allow commercial ships to pass,” added Serhii Dvornyk, of the Ukrainian mission to the UN.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia has rejected these accusations altogether.
According to a Western diplomatic source, some 20 million tons of grain are currently stuck in Ukraine, in silos or already on board, and the plans in place to evacuate this grain by road or train are not viable for such quantities. .
For example, a freight train in France carries an average of 500 tons, while a bulk carrier carries tens of thousands of tons.
For several days, this idea of finding an agreement to define naval corridors has been pushed by certain diplomats and experts.
– Turkish support –
“Together with the UN, we are working to create safe conduct for Ukrainian ships carrying grain,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in New York on Wednesday. “We are going to create a contact group for all these humanitarian files”.
“It is worth considering an escort system for Ukrainian (and other countries) merchant ships that want to enter and leave Odessa. It would be similar to Operation Sincere Will protecting merchant ships in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s,” former US Admiral James Stavridis said in a Bloomberg op-ed.
“We need such a diplomatic agreement …”, notes, pessimistic, the Western diplomatic source.
In this research at the UN, “it could be difficult (for Russia) to resist political pressure from African and Middle Eastern countries dependent” on Ukrainian cereals, researcher François Heisbourg said on Twitter.
– Mining plans –
Once a hypothetical agreement has been reached, the thorny question of mines will arise.
“All the Romanian and Bulgarian ports are congested, currently there is little maritime traffic in the Black Sea. Among other reasons, because of the effect produced by the discovery of mines. Currently there are about ten, so the threat is significant,” French Navy spokesman Captain Eric Lavault told AFP.
“We don’t know the mining plan, it’s a real subject,” he notes. “The port of Odessa is not clear, and therefore we must send a mine warfare force”, with anti-mine warfare buildings, but also air and naval protection given the context, even if there had a UN mandate.
“It would take days to weeks,” he adds. “It’s like making a road, so that boats can pass each other, and mooring areas to park, so all these areas must be demined”.
Retired Turkish Admiral Deniz Kutluk thinks it can be done in days. “It’s not very complicated, you have to clear a passage 500 yards wide”, about 450 meters, according to him.
According to the experts interviewed, Russia itself or Turkey could fulfill this mission. One thing is certain for Mr. Kutluk, “no one outside the countries bordering the Black Sea will be authorized” to cross the straits guarded by Turkey and closed under the Montreux Convention.
And if the Russians, masters of the Black Sea, accepted, it is not guaranteed that the Ukrainians would be happy to see the mines protecting Odessa removed, even if they have other means of coastal defenses, with their batteries of missiles and now 155mm guns donated by the West.
“If a passage is created, it can then be used to attack,” notes Deniz Kutluk.
At the same time, notes Eric Lavault, “we remine very quickly. We don’t know what capacity they have left, but to lay mines, you take a fishing trawler, two metal beams as a rail, you put the mines and in one night it is blocked”.