Ukraine update: Russia is blockading Ukraine, but it’s blackmailing the world

Ukraine update: Russia is blockading Ukraine, but it’s blackmailing the world

On the ground, Ukraine’s military has been remarkably effective at halting Russian advances and extracting a price for every inch of ground surrendered. Oryx currently has Russia’s verified losses at over 4,000 pieces of equipment, including 715 tanks. By comparison, Ukraine’s documented losses are at just over 1,000 pieces of equipment and 177 tanks. Russia has been losing equipment at a rate that’s 4 times that of Ukraine. It still is.

Ukraine has also surprised Russia in the air. Not only was Russia’s initial attempt to take out Ukrainian air defenses ineffective, the Ukrainian Air Force is still flying. Despite the loss of multiple pilots and planes over the course of the war, it’s been making more sorties in the last two weeks than it did in the first two weeks (to be fair, so has Russia). 

However, there was never any real contest when it comes to the water. The entire active Ukrainian Navy consists of 15 ships. And “ships” is being generous. The largest member of Ukraine’s fleet is a single landing ship, everything below that is essentially a patrol boat, better suited to chasing down smugglers than waging a war. In comparison, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet contains 20 large warships. That includes half a dozen guided missile frigates, each of which outweighs the entire Ukrainian fleet. There are also thought to be 6 or 7 diesel submarines based out of Sevastopol. 

Any victories that Ukraine scores against the Russian Navy are likely to come from land. As did the sinking of the former Black Sea flagship, Moskva. Which is why news that Ukraine is getting truck-launched Harpoon missiles from Denmark so encouraging. 

Denmark Sending Ukraine Anti-Ship Harpoon Missiles To Take on Russian Ships in Black Sea – USNI News

— U.S. Naval Institute (@NavalInstitute) May 23, 2022

These are mostly likely of a variety known as RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II (don’t worry, there will not be a test). These carry an advanced targeting system made by Boeing that allows them to target ships at sea, or in a distant port, or to even go after a target on land. They have a range of around 120 kilometers (75 miles).

That range is not enough to clear the Black Sea, but it is enough to tell a whole lot of Russian warships to go f#ck themselves if they come anywhere near Ukrainian ports. (It’s 180 miles from Odesa to Sevastopol, so Ukraine can’t sit back and lob missiles into Russian ships sitting in port. More’s the pity.)

Still clearing Russian ships away from Odesa and other ports along Ukraine’s far west coast is critical, because Russia is waging a blockade against the export of Ukrainian wheat and corn — a blockade that threatens to destabilize countries far outside Ukraine’s borders.

On Wednesday morning, The Washington Post looked at declassified documents from U.S. intelligence showing Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Russia’s navy now effectively controls all traffic in the northern third of the Black Sea, making it unsafe for commercial shipping, according to a U.S. government document obtained by The Washington Post.

Ukraine provides about 10% of all the wheat exported around the world. Most of that wheat goes to nations in Africa and the Middle East. 95% of those exports go through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, 20 million tons of wheat are currently trapped in Ukraine. Not only is Russia  standing off at sea, ready to sink any ship leaving a Ukrainian port, but it has deliberately targeted grain warehouses and loading facilities. Even if Russia pulled out tomorrow, Ukraine would have difficulty getting its wheat where it’s needed.

Meanwhile, Russia is not only hording its own wheat crop, but also stealing everything it can find in fields, silos, and storehouses in the parts of Ukraine it currently controls.

It is doing this “as a form of blackmail,” said von der Leyen, “holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support. This is using hunger and grain to wield power.”

A number of countries are cooperating in looking for solutions. Ukraine has already made agreements with Romanian and Bulgaria that would allow them to move grain overland to the port at Varna. Some Ukrainian grain will be taking an even longer trip by land, and a far longer trip by sea, to reach its intended market.

First train with 1,800 tons of Ukrainian corn tranported by 🇨🇿operator to EU Corn will go to Egypt from German port Brake. ČD Cargo searching for different transport paths to circumvent Russia’s Black Sea blockade – ports in 🇩🇪🇵🇱, or on Adriatic Sea

— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) May 25, 2022

It’s good to see some grain getting out, but it’s unlikely these routes will have anything like the capacity necessary to handle all of the Ukrainian crop, or even the part of it harvested in areas away from the battlefront. 

In the meantime, Russia’s blockade has already driven the price of bread up by 70% in some areas of the Middle East. If prices remain high, or a genuine shortage develops, it could easily generate conflict inside, or even between, affected nations. Russia is holding hostage the food that supports millions of people around the world. They’re as responsible for any deaths that result in Lebanon or Lesotho as they are from those killed by bombs in Mariupol. 

On two different occasions in 2021, the U.S. sent military vessels into the Black Sea, which greatly irritated Russia. But there are no ships there now. Not from the U.S. and not from most of the Western powers. Getting out the grain is going to be a challenge. 

That is, unless Russia’s fleet keeps coming too close to those new missiles. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022 · 1:40:26 AM +00:00

Mark Sumner

There are multiple reports that Russia could not hold the position on the road east of Bakhmut and has withdrawn. Supplies are reportedly flowing along that route again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022 · 9:35:23 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

The statistics on a TOS-1 thermobaric weapons system are fearsome. But watching the impacts simply rip the air apart is shocking. The overpressure waves generated by each shot are… God help everyone in range of these things.

Russian TOS-1 strikes against a Ukrainian position in Donetsk Oblast

— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) May 25, 2022

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