Russia attacks Danube ports, Poland blocks imports of Ukrainian grain. Nevertheless, the EU has so far managed to export a large part of Kiev’s agricultural products through its territory. These possibilities for new or improved transport routes are discussed.
After the Russian blockade of Black Sea ports, Ukraine is more dependent than ever on the European Union to export its grain. In May last year, the EU, together with its member states, Moldova and various financial institutions, launched so-called solidarity corridors to help Kiev with transport. According to EU figures, 60 percent of Ukrainian grain exports have so far been processed in this way. In order to further improve the transfer, the EU Commission is funding several projects, whereby additional lanes are to be built, the port structure on the Danube adapted and the capacity of storage facilities increased, as a Commission spokeswoman said when asked by ntv.de.
A total of one billion euros will be mobilized for the plans, with the Commission covering half of the costs. However, several factors mean that the EU does not yet know whether it can increase Ukrainian grain exports. According to the spokeswoman, the Commission is currently assuming a decline in the next twelve months. An average of about 4.5 million tons will then be transported monthly, compared to 5.5 tons currently passing through the corridors.
One of the biggest problems at the moment are the Russian attacks. Kremlin troops are targeting Ukrainian ports, grain elevators and warehouses. In doing so, they are increasingly targeting the Danube Delta, an important part of the solidarity corridors. In early August, for example, Moscow shelled the Ukrainian port city of Izmail across from the Romanian bank of the Danube. Such attacks severely disrupt the alternative route for grain exports across the river via Romania.
No money in the EU budget for further funding
Attacks have increased since July 17. On that day, Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to extend the international grain deal that allowed Ukrainian agricultural produce to be exported through Black Sea ports. He demands better conditions for his own food and fertilizer exports, which are, however, exempt from international financial sanctions.
Since the Kremlin will probably not stop shelling anytime soon, nobody knows what damage and costs it will cause. The EU cannot provide any further funds for the transport of Ukrainian grain beyond the funds already approved, as it has not earmarked any funds for this in the current budget, says Norbert Lins, chairman of the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament. The CDU politician is therefore appealing to the Commission to find a “coalition of willing EU member states” for further funding. The plans also include upgrading European ports. “The port of Constanta in Romania would have the highest priority here by far,” says Lins. In addition, the port of Varna in Bulgaria and the port of Gdansk in Poland must be examined.
According to Lins, these are the routes in the EU that could either be built or expanded for Ukrainian grain exports:
- About the Baltic States: “Latvian Minister of Agriculture Didzis Smits assured that the Baltic ports could handle this transhipment capacity. However, the challenge is to load the goods between the trains, since rail traffic has different gauges. Because of renewed Russian attacks on Danube ports, this corridor would be a helpful support to keep the flow of exports going. Latvia reaffirmed its solidarity by establishing an alternative route.”
- About Croatia: “The foreign ministers from Croatia and Ukraine have agreed that the ports on the Adriatic Sea should be used for exports. Wheat and the like should be exported to Croatia via the Danube and then brought to the coast by rail.”
- About Romania and the Danube Delta: “Due to the bombing of Russia, it must be examined how much effort would be required to rebuild the infrastructure. However, it should still be possible to use this corridor effectively over land via Romania and the Danube Canal.”
- About Bulgaria: “Ukraine is in talks with Bulgaria to explore more options for export.”
- Via Slovakia or Hungary
- About Poland
Poland fears for its farmers
However, Poland is opposed to the EU when it comes to Ukrainian grain exports. Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced that no Ukrainian grain would be allowed into the country after September 15. Up until that day, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria had closed their markets for wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower from Ukraine with the consent of Brussels.
The transit of Ukrainian agricultural products to third countries is unaffected by the import ban. However, so much grain initially stayed in Poland along the way, causing prices there to plummet, that farmers protested in the spring. If the EU regulation is not extended, Poland will continue it independently, Kaczynski was quoted as saying by the Polish agency PAP.
President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted angrily to Warsaw’s refusal in one of his nightly video messages at the end of July. Restrictions on Hungarian grain exports really should end on September 15, he said. “Any extension of these restrictions is absolutely unacceptable and clearly not European,” said Zelenskyj.
A solution is currently being worked out at the EU level to appease Poland and the other eastern member states. According to Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir, Ukrainian grain could possibly be sent sealed by the neighboring countries to ports in the Baltic States. This ensures that the deliveries are not sold in the transit countries. Lins thinks the suggestion makes sense. “A guarantee of transit is the answer,” he says.