Some illusions die hard; others have a short shelf life. Moscow’s July 23 attack on port facilities in Odesa—which came less than twenty-four hours after Moscow and Kyiv signed separate agreements with Turkey and the United Nations (UN) to unblock Ukraine’s Black Sea ports—illustrates both points.
In exchange for ending the Russian blockade on Ukraine’s grain exports, the Kremlin received assurances that Western sanctions did not apply to fertilizer, opening the way to export sales.
The deal was aimed at avoiding food shortages—if not full-on famine—in Africa, the Arab world, and across much of Asia.
But this is the first illusion: For months, Moscow’s blockade has been designed, among other things, to produce pain in the Global South and raise pressure on the West to force Ukraine into an unsatisfactory peace with Russia.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin has been called out by the United States, NATO, and the European Union for this cynical policy, he has faced no criticism from the actual victims of the policy.
For instance, during a June trip to Moscow, Senegalese President Macky Sall, the current African Union chief, echoed Kremlin talking points that the food shortages were a result of the ongoing war and Western sanctions rather than Moscow’s blockade. This week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is certainly looking for more allies during his charm offensive in Africa.
The July 22 agreements took the UN and Turkey weeks to negotiate, but there was only one problem: Moscow had no reason (and probably no intention) to honor the deal. Its blockade was working. Pressure on the West was rising, and Moscow was paying no political price for the food shortage it was creating.
It was not even clear why Moscow felt the need to go through the charade of signing the agreement. Whatever the case, its missile strike on Saturday ended that charade quickly—and with it, the illusion that the food crisis had been averted.
This leads to the other illusion. The Biden administration understands that the United States has a major interest in ensuring that Moscow’s war on Ukraine ends in failure—which requires substantial support from Washington and its allies and partners in the West. It also understands that a Moscow-manufactured food shortage would produce a humanitarian disaster and send refugees streaming into Europe.
Yet it is still under the illusion that it can achieve its objectives by slow…