Humanitarian assistance for Ukraine should involve not just sending aid to the beleaguered nation but also guaranteeing food exports from there to the rest of the outside world.
That counterintuitive but insightful proposal comes from John Gruetzner, a decadeslong international businessman and a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. In a column that ran in slightly different versions in multiple outlets, Gruetzner (and sometime co-author Ted Bilyea) warns that “nearly 25 million tons of grain are currently stuck in Ukraine and unable to leave the country.” The inability to export its grain is a massive blow to Ukraine’s own economy and future “agricultural capacity,” of course, and it also threatens to cause a significant famine in places all around the globe.
Gruetzner proposes that the United Nations create a “maritime food security corridor to the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Mykolaiv." He writes, “If last year’s grain is not shipped soon, it will rot in the ports, with the resulting impact reverberating through the supply chain.”
Nations led by Turkey, with its significant ability to control access to the Black Sea, could enforce the corridor in the name of humanitarianism. Russia would have a hard time stopping the establishment of such a corridor and an even harder time justifying it. Russian interference also could jeopardize its tacit, semi-alliance with China, which itself is “a major investor and importer of Ukrainian agricultural produce” and is thus harmed economically by Ukraine’s inability to export.
Gruetzner’s proposal dovetails quite nicely with an idea I floated back on April 6 for the U.N. to protect Odesa for multiple reasons, including one of two “humanitarian relief corridors.” It also would work as a seaborne version of the “humanitarian airlift” I floated even earlier, on March 16 (with due credit to a Wall Street Journal column by Douglas Feith and John Hannah). In essence, a U.N.-protected humanitarian corridor could work both ways, bringing all sorts of seaborne supplies into Ukraine while allowing Ukraine’s massive surplus of grain to feed the world as it ordinarily does.
Earlier today (Wednesday, May 18), Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced to the U.N. that the United States would provide Ukraine an additional $215 million in food assistance (obviously, food other than grain). This is great news. Tomorrow, Blinken is scheduled to chair a U.N. Security Council meeting on conflict and food security. And Reuters reported earlier this week that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres already has been working behind the scenes to move the grain stock in Ukraine.
All of this means that both the U.S. and the U.N., to their credit, understand the importance of all this. Now, though, should be the time to “go big” and very much out in the open. No need to work behind the scenes. The U.N. should publicly adopt Gruetzner’s plan, with my addendum, and implement it posthaste. Lives should be saved both in Ukraine and in far-flung places of the globe usually fed by shipping the produce of Ukraine’s blessedly fertile soil.