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I see contradictory reports on the Internet. Opinions and news seem to have two focal points:

  1. Russia has gotten out of the "grain deal", making it impossible for Ukrainian ships to leave the ports of Odesa. Pro-Russian sources give the reason for this as the Western economic sanctions and the military usage of the transports covered by the civilian grain transport.
    Anti-Russian sources say that Russia wants to take over the Ukrainian market and also wants to harm their national pride, where grain production and sale is a focal thing.
  2. Anti-Russian sources proudly say that now Ukraine can export grain again because many Russian warships were recently destroyed by Ukrainian naval drones. Pro-Russian sources seem silent on the topic.

However, there is an ongoing political crisis that some EU countries, most importantly Poland, do not want to allow the entry of Ukrainian grain. The resistance happens both on the governmental level and in popular opinion. The reasons are mostly that Ukrainian grain is not subject to any EU regulation, making its production too cheap for a fair market rate; besides that, there are also problems with its quality (from DNA modification, illegal soil enrichment, and so on). The Ukrainian side denies this and says that the grain is good quality.

However, why is it an important matter? If the Ukrainian navy can now access the Bosporus, then they can sell the grain where they want, or not? That would essentially be the grain deal or the pre-war situation.

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    "Can" as in physically can transport it from Odessa out the Black Sea? Or are they able to get ships willing to transport grain, and marine insurers that will insure those ships?
    – user28434
    Commented Mar 19 at 17:50
  • How is this really about Politics, please? How is it not about simple practicality, prolly in the form of military force? Commented Mar 24 at 21:34
  • @RobbieGoodwin I hope I do not need to argument for that it is not a touristic question.
    – Gray Sheep
    Commented Mar 24 at 22:03
  • Why would you mention 'a touristic question', please? Sorry if I put it badly but again, how is this about Politics? Whether Putin was justified in invading Ukraine is about Politics. Presenting himself as winning is about Politics. Whether that's true is purely pragmatic, not political. Whether Poland or wherever wants to restrict Ukraine's access to the Bosphorus is political. I'm suggesting the Question 'Does Ukraine now have access to the Bosphorus' can only be pragmatic, even if all the reasons argued either way are political. Commented Mar 24 at 22:23

6 Answers 6

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It looks like they have reached at least deal-like levels, according to their own data (via WSJ).

enter image description here

During the summer they exported mostly via Romania (70%), but that is down to 20% now, and the bulk mostly is through Odesa now (again), while the volumes have picked up.

Almar's comment is correct that Russia intermittently bombed the port (storage at least) facilities in Odesa, but apparently not often enough to impact exports that way. As The Economist describes that part of the affair:

Dockers down their tools only during air-raid alerts, which can last several hours at a time. The raids add about 30% to loading times, says Denys Paviglianiti-Karpov, head of the Odessa port authority. But the constant threat of missiles and drones means no one is in the mood to cut corners. “Crimea is just 160km away and the missiles sometimes land even before the sirens start,” he says. Inside the port, you don’t have to look hard to grasp the mortal dangers. The wreckage of the passenger terminal, mangled by an Onyx anti-ship missile on September 25th, is Russia’s most prominent calling card. But it is rare to see an intact roof or undamaged window here, with glass now mostly substituted by corrugated plastic sheeting. The roads are pockmarked. A smell of burning lingers. In all, Russia has attacked nearly 200 port facilities since it withdrew from the grain deal in July, killing five port workers and injuring 23.

As for reaching pre-war situation, that's not quite the case, as production is down some 25% compared to that due to lost lands etc. (again per WSJ)

One obscure but interesting point is that a number of the large ships docking at Odessa in recent times are/were Chinese:

Also important is the ownership of the vessels. Several bulk carriers that came to the ports of Greater Odessa and have already left with cargo belonged to Chinese shipowners. In particular, Ying Hao 01, Wu Yang Glory, Xin Shun. Russia would hardly dare to attack these vessels in ports or at sea.

(I'm not an expert on shipping, so I could be wrong on this, but even some of the other ones, like the Liberian-flagged Jolanda, appear connected to China, at least temporarily. That [very large] ship went to Lanshan, after making some stops in Turkey and Egypt, stops [~1d] which looked a bit too short to fully unload it.)

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    A source going back a year farther to show prewar exports would be useful. If exports from 2021-22 were significantly higher, or more heavily maritime then the current road/rail rates could still be causing significant stress on prices elsewhere in Europe. Commented Mar 20 at 1:20
  • I believe most of this has been down to all the Russian warships they've been sinking.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 20 at 14:23
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Ukraine has succeeded in pushing back much of the Russian navy from Crimea and securing the export route in the Black Sea. They are on track to export all grain from the 2023 harvest (Reuters).

Ukraine launched a shipping route along its western Black Sea coast near Romania and Bulgaria already in August, a month after Russia quit a year-long landmark deal.

Since then the U.N. says there have been dozens of attacks on Ukraine's grain production and export facilities. Russia says it targets military infrastructure, not civilian infrastructure.

As to if this grain is good or bad, likely the same as used to be before invasion. Almost a third of exports via the alternative Black Sea corridor are sent to China.

While the flood of cheaper grain from Ukraine is really a problem for EU producers, EU thinks to fix this by putting import taxes (up to 50%) on Russia and Belarus (Reuters 2). Grain from these two countries has not been notably taxed up to now, and there are suspicions of Russia selling at dumping prices with the goal to destabilize the European market (The Guardian).

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For grain shipments: more or less, with caveats. Shipping is nearing pre-war levels, even after the collapse of the UN-Russia deal.

(Jan 2024) Ukraine Grain Exports Reach Highest Levels Since the War Began

Ukraine exported 1.73 million tonnes of wheat and 3.45 million tonnes of corn in December, up 34% and 45%, respectively, from the prior month. Ukraine’s December’s shipments, while still below prewar levels, represent larger export volumes than in almost any month under the now-lapsed Black Sea Grain Initiative. Ukraine typically exported upward of 6 million tonnes per month of corn and wheat combined before the war began.

Gro shipping data show a sharp jump in the number of dry bulk carriers loading at Odessa port starting in mid-November and continuing into the new year. (See chart below.)

Or

Ukraine’s grain exports back to 2023 levels thanks to Black Sea route – Euractiv

In January, Kyiv exported 7.3 million tonnes of food commodities, 60% of which were transported by sea, the same level as in March 2023 when the BSGI was at full capacity, IGC’s director Arnaud Petit told Euractiv.

Now, it is true that European farming interests are critical of Ukraine getting access to European markets, but that is not that closely related to shipping considerations (and in case, the Kremlin made much hay that too much of the defunct deal's grain got shipped to Europe, even when it was just for processing before reexport to poorer countries).

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  • Trucks are much less efficient than trains when it comes to bulk goods on long routes, and trains are much less efficient than ships. Replacing sea routes by land routes is only possible for high-value goods, or if someone is willing to pay the transport prices.
    So trucking grain from Ukraine to the customers was never a real option, and trucking it to ports outside Ukraine was only marginally effective. In was done in 2022 to make the point that the Russian blockade would not be successful, but trucking was no sustainable way of export. Feeding large parts of the world from Ukraine requires sea transport.
  • Attacks by Ukraine reduced the ability of the Russian Black Sea Fleet to interfere with commercial shipping. (Council on Foreign relations, a US 'think tank.')

  • A good measure of the viability of a sea route are insurance rates. Ukraine and their Western allies have tried to keep them low.
  • A battleship is a warship carrying large-caliber guns (bigger than 250mm) and armored to resist the fire from similar guns. The last battleships were retired decades ago because they were no longer efficient types. The Russians used to have a missile cruiser in the Black Sea, the Moskva. Such a ship is mostly armed with missiles, and relatively weak guns.
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    Russia has enough long range anti-ship missiles to sink bulk carriers even from land. (They don't need "battleships"). But if they did this, they'd put themselves in the same ballpark as the Houthis. Also, such missile can hit unintended targets sometimes, as they tend to pick the largest radar signature (as Iran found out during some exercise). Newest generation US missiles like LRASM have some "AI" to deal with this and avoid unintended targets, but most of the older missile don't have that. Commented Mar 18 at 19:29
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    @Dolphin613Motorboat, the original question talked about battleships.
    – o.m.
    Commented Mar 18 at 19:35
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Question: Does Ukraine now have access to the Bosporus?

Yes while Russia still contests Ukrainian exports, through a number of foreign weapon systems and innovated Ukrainian defense initiatives, Ukraine has pushed Russia's Black Sea fleet out of Crimea and out of the Sea of Asmov to the Russian port of Novorossiysk.

This has provided Ukraine with a corridor for exporting goods out of Odessa in the Ukrainian west. The ships just have to get like 100 miles to be in Romanian territory which is in NATO.

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The Bosporus is closed to warships. Which is why Russia cannot bring in their northern fleet for this conflict. It is also closed to Ukrainian warships; this does not matter much because they have none. It prevents others from donating a warship though.

The Bosporus was always open to civilian ships, such as grain export. The problem was Russian warships ability to attack ships before they could reach the Bosporus. Ukraine has stopped this from happening by sinking some Russian ships, and having enough sea-drones and missiles to keep the rest away.

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  • Ukraine now has a couple "warships" - specifically demining ships donated to them to clear the way for shipping. They are warships, though, so they can't transit the Bosphoros like you said. War truly is hell. reuters.com/world/middle-east/…
    – bharring
    Commented Mar 22 at 14:28

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