Ban on Ukrainian grain in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia - GulfToday

Ban on Ukrainian grain in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia

 Since the Russian assault of Ukraine, wheat prices have soared to record highs, overtaking levels seen during the food crisis of 2007-08 Reuters

Picture used for illustrative purpose only.

There have arisen hurdles for the export of Ukrainian grains through its European Union (EU) neighbourhood. When the Black Sea export route was arranged through the mediation of the United Nations and Turkey with Russia last November and which had not been renewed after it ended months ago, the Ukrainian grain was passing through the overland route which passes through neighbouring countries like Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

About 60 per cent of the Ukrainian grain exports were through the overland route, and 40 per cent through the Black Sea ports. But it became necessary for the European Union (EU) to ban Ukrainian exports because they were impacting EU grain prices and the farmers. The ban had ended on Friday, but three members of the EU – Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – had imposed national bans to protect their farmers. This is also the harvesting season, and the Polish, Hungarian and Slovakian farmers protested the falling grain prices caused by Ukrainian exports.

The EU did not want to ban measures from member-countries, but the three countries said that they had to resort to the ban to protect their farmers. But they said that the ban is confined to Ukrainian grains being sold in the local markets, but they can pass through their territories to the destination country. Even the EU had created what is called the Solidarity Lines through which Ukrainian grains can pass without being sold in the local markets. Ukraine said that it would take measures in 30 days’ time to direct the passage of grains to the destination country, which would fall outside the EU zone, and it is meant for Middle Eastern and African countries.

The Russian blockade in the Black Sea route came about because the Russians suspected arms shipments to Ukraine through the sea-route. As a result, Ukrainian grain which was mainly exported got stuck in the Black Sea ports and it was getting wasted. The Black Sea route was important for Ukraine’s grain exports, but it was not the only one. The overland route through its EU neighbours was crucial too.

That is why, the ban imposed by Poland, Hungary and Slovakia assumes strategic importance. It is evident that support for Ukraine came from European members of NATO, and though members of NATO are members of the EU, their interests do clash. And though EU is ideologically supportive of Ukraine in the war against Russia, members of EU are quite aware of their national interests, especially on the economic front. Poland, Hungary and Slovakia had declared that they would have to act to protect their farmers. Romania is another country which had been allowing the Ukrainian grain exports to pass through its territory, especially through the river Danube. It has so far not imposed the ban, but it did say that it will decide after watching the situation.

The European – NATO and EU – support for the Ukrainians is not a simple one of supporting Kyiv militarily, but it involves aspects of the economy, especially agriculture. Before the war, Ukraine and Russia have been the largest grain and fertiliser exporters to countries outside Europe.

It is the geographical location of Ukraine that is part of the dispute with Russia. Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 was partly based on the issue of Russia’s access to the Black Sea. The other aspect was that of existence of the Russian-speaking population in this part. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, on the issue of Ukraine’s prospective membership of NATO. But that was not the only issue. There were territorial aspects as well. The Russia-Ukraine war is complicated, and the responses of EU on the one hand, and that of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia on other, show that the complexity goes beyond Ukraine.

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