Since the end of the grain deal in July, Russia has undertaken a campaign of bombing Ukrainian ports. Ukraine, however, manages to export its agricultural products, vital to its economy, thanks to immense efforts to set up alternative routes to crossing the Black Sea. France 24 takes stock.
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Since July 17 and the end of the grain agreement which provided Kiev with a secure corridor in the Black Sea, Moscow has once again exercised a form of maritime blockade. Thus, for two months, only two ships loaded with agricultural products have risked the crossing in September to reach the Bosphorus, in Turkey, from the port of Chornomorsk, located near Odessa.
Since the end of July, Russia has also regularly bombed Odessa, the main Ukrainian port on the Black Sea, but also Reni and Izmail, two smaller ports located on the Danube. Moscow is targeting port, road and rail infrastructure allowing Ukraine to continue its grain exports (wheat, sunflower, corn) as well as its storage capacities, plunging the southern regions of the country into daily terror of bombings.
Faced with Moscow’s desire to stop its agricultural exports, “Ukraine has made the creation of a corridor without an agreement with Russia a priority objective”, estimates Andrii Klymenko, editor-in-chief of Black Sea News, in Le Figaro. a Ukrainian site specializing in the Black Sea.
“In mid-July this year, Ukraine mapped a new route through its territorial waters and then presented it to the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization. This corridor runs along the coast of the Odessa region, up to Snake Island towards Romanian territorial waters”. To reassure shipowners, Ukraine has also set up a fund intended to cover the insurance costs of boats wishing to reach Odessa.
However, kyiv relies above all on the Danube for its grain exports. Since the end of July, just over 3 million tonnes have passed through this route. Arthur Portier, consultant for the company Agritel, which specializes in the analysis of agricultural and agro-industrial markets, believes that this alternative, more expensive route is experiencing “somewhat crazy” success, despite the bombings. For France 24, he takes stock of the situation two months after the end of the grain agreement in the Black Sea.
France 24: Since the end of the corridor, what alternatives has Ukraine found to continue exporting its agricultural production ?
Arthur Porter: The corridor which was put in place in August 2022, and which lasted until July 18, 2023, allowed the exit of 30 million tonnes of grain. But during this time, Ukrainians did not stand by and tried to develop alternatives for their exports. The first is by truck; the second, by train, allows grain to be transported via a solidarity corridor set up by Europe.
Has Ukraine abandoned the sea route to export its grain?
No. It also made fairly significant investments on the Danube after the destruction of four of Mykolaiv’s five port terminals during the conflict. At Reni and Izmail, two key ports on the river, smaller ships are loaded before heading to the Black Sea where their cargoes are transferred to larger ships, mostly in Constanta, Romania.
Thanks to these alternative routes, there has been no significant impact on prices. Now, even without the Black Sea corridor, the Ukrainians manage to export around two to three million tonnes of cereals each month, all grains combined, which is still pretty crazy. This clearly shows the rise of these alternative routes by truck, by train and on the Danube, which are functioning today.
This explains the recent Russian bombing campaign on the Odessa region and on the Romanian border. ?
Yes, for several weeks, the Russians have understood the situation and obviously began to strategically shell the Danube ports. The border between Romania and Ukraine was also bombed. For the moment, this mainly affects storage logistics infrastructures.
Is the new Black Sea route taken by two cargo ships in September a game-changer? ?
The Black Sea remains an area where conflict is intense. Retaliation is possible if the Ukrainians load ships without having – I say this with big quotation marks – “authorization” from the Russians.
The two grain ships that have used the new corridor do not represent significant volumes, so it does not really change the situation at the global level. But if a boat were to be hit, it could have major consequences. I don’t see this route as a relaxing element for classes. I see it more as an element bringing even more uncertainty to the market.
If ships bypass the Russian blockade in the Black Sea, do you think they will find insurers ?
Yes, but the insurance cost will be significant. It has always been so in the Black Sea. It is high because the area presents major risks.
To quickly reach Romanian waters, the best is to follow the coast, knowing that there are always maritime mines. So you have to be careful. In the past, military escorts have been set up, a type of zodiac accompanying the boats to try to detect floating mines. All this has a cost, that’s a fact.