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Dutch May Join Naval Escorts for Ukraine Wheat If Russia Commits

·2-min read

(Bloomberg) -- The Netherlands would consider joining an alliance to send warships to escort grain supplies stuck in Ukrainian ports but would need assurances from Russia and, ideally, involvement from Turkey, according to the Dutch defense minister.

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Estonia and Lithuania have been calling to establish a coalition of the willing to send naval escorts for grain freighters, as European officials decry Russia’s effective blockade of Ukrainian ports that’s left Kyiv struggling to get grain shipments out.

The blockade has fanned concern that the world is facing a food crisis and has sent global wheat prices skyrocketing, leaving fragile countries even more vulnerable.

“If there is any way to make it happen, and if the Netherlands were asked to play a part, of course I would be very happy to be part of such an alliance,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told Bloomberg on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “But we’re not there yet unfortunately.”

Sea Corridor

Establishing a so-called sea corridor would need a “real assurance” from Russia that it would cooperate to make this happen and allow ships to travel given the presence of mines as well as their own ships in the Black Sea, Ollongren said.

It’s also important that Turkey be involved given their location in the region and because of their efforts to maintain dialog with both Ukraine and Russia, she said.

Ollongren said other efforts to extract the grain by land were inefficient, making it all the more urgent to find a solution for the ships to leave the ports. But any corridor would need to be established within the next two months before the harvest goes bad, she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed pessimism that NATO allies would establish such a naval corridor, saying they refused to set up a no-fly zone following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on concerns it could escalate the war and drag in other countries.

Global Repercussions

Ollongren said this case is different because it has worldwide implications. “We could be looking at hunger for millions and millions of people if we don’t make this happen.”

She said allies should remind Russia that it had signed on to a 2018 UN Security Council Resolution stating that food cannot be used as a weapon of war and possibly use this as a basis for an agreement for a sea corridor. “I hope they could see the importance of this, separated from the war,” she said.

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