Yesterday’s meeting of the new Axis of Evil in Tehran may have produced some results, at least according to the Russians. One of the stated goals of the participants was to engineer a deal that would allow Ukraine to resume agricultural exports through the Black Sea which have been stalled by Russian naval blockades and mines set in the waters surrounding Odesa. The meeting didn’t actually produce a new deal, but rather some modifications to a proposal put forward by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month. Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected to oversee the signing of the updated agreement in Istanbul. Assuming this goes through, a “control center” would be established in Turkey, manned by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, NATO, and Turkey. They would coordinate the traffic of cargo ships into and out of Ukraine so the shipments of grain can resume. But Russia had a list of demands that needed to be met first. (Associated Press)

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were due on Friday to oversee the signing of a key agreement that would allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and Russia to export grain and fertilizers — ending a standoff that has threatened world food security.

Last week, the sides reached a tentative agreement on a U.N. plan that would enable Ukraine to export 22 million tons of desperately needed grain and other agricultural products that have been stuck in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports due to the war. The unblocking of the grain stockpiles will help ease a food crisis that has sent prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley soaring.

The deal foresees the establishment of a control center in Istanbul, to be staffed by U.N., Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, which would run and coordinate the grain exports, officials have said.

It’s difficult to see this deal as anything other than NATO caving to many Russian demands. Keep in mind that the only thing Ukraine is asking for is the ability to do what they have always done. They’re looking to export their own products from their own ports without their ships being blown up.

The list of Russian demands being met is lengthy. First, they will be allowed to resume exports of their own grain, along with fertilizer, to the global market. (So much for some of the sanctions, apparently.) Russia will also be allowed to board and inspect all ships coming into or out of Ukrainian ports to ensure they are only shipping agricultural products and not weapons or military support equipment. Once the mines have been cleared from the sea lanes, Russia is promising in return not to use the seaways to attack Ukraine’s port cities.

There are so many things that could go wrong with this agreement. By allowing Russian ships to “inspect” the incoming and outgoing cargo ships, they could simply plant some weapons onboard and then seize the vessels after claiming to have “found” them on the ships. As far as their promises not to use the sea lanes to attack the Ukrainian coast, what are those promises really worth? Russia claimed all winter that they weren’t going to invade Ukraine and then they turned around and did it anyway. The Russians lie on a regular basis. What will the rest of the world do if they turn around and begin shelling Odesa as soon as the mines are removed? Put more sanctions on them?

Even with all of those concerns being aired, I supposed NATO doesn’t have much of a choice here. They need to get those grain shipments out onto the market very soon and the Russians unfortunately know this. If Putin goes back on his word and uses this agreement to launch new attacks, we’ll pretty much be back where we are right now. But NATO should be insisting on one other provision that we’ve discussed here in the past. If the Ukrainian cargo ships are deployed, they should be escorted along their entire route by American or other NATO naval warships. If the Russians decided to violate the agreement and attack, they will be forced to risk hitting one of our ships. And then we would have a free pass to sink them.

Keep your fingers crossed. It would be good to see the grain shipments resume and that might avoid even more damage to the global food supply chain. But we really can’t trust the Russians as far as we could throw them. I hope NATO isn’t just being played here.

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