Using military to end Russian blockade would be ‘high risk’

LONDON — Amid growing calls to break Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports, the top US military officer has said doing so militarily would amount to a “high-risk military operation”.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the remarks to reporters as he arrived here on Tuesday to meet his ‘Five Eyes’ counterparts before traveling to Finland and Sweden , which applied for NATO membership later this week. .

The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance includes Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The meetings come as Russia struggles to seize the eastern industrial region of Donbass and its blockade of Odessa, the main port through which Ukraine exports its grain, is fueling a global food crisis.

“You can transport the grain by truck or train, or you can transport it by sea. At present, the sea lanes are blocked by mines and the Russian Navy. To open these sea lanes would require a very significant military effort,” Milley said. If policymakers opted for this, “it would be a high-risk military operation that would require significant effort”.

US President Joe Biden has pledged to defend NATO and coordinate arms shipments to Ukraine, but has resisted further calls for US troop involvement as he seeks to avoid d come into direct conflict with Russia and start a wider war. In March, Biden opted against a no-fly zone sought by Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky because Biden deemed it escalating.

Retired Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, argued this week that ships under the auspices of the United Nations, NATO or a coalition of nations could escort grain convoys as US Navy ships escorted oil shipments in the 1980s amid tensions. with Iran.

Amid reports that as many as 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck inside Ukraine – the world’s fifth-largest wheat producer, Army General Christopher Cavoli, the candidate to become the top US general of operations in Europe, the German railway agency praised last week. for enabling Ukrainian grain to be transported overland to Western Europe through his “Berlin Rail Lift”, a play on the Berlin Airlift in the aftermath of World War II.

The White House last week rejected an offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin to facilitate grain and fertilizer exports in return for the West lifting sanctions against Moscow for the war in Ukraine.

A farmer working in a field near Lviv, Ukraine, May 9, 2022. Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports is fueling a global food crisis.
EPA/MYKOLA TYS

Ahead of the NATO summit this summer, Milley is in Europe both to show support for the allies who have united against Russia’s invasion, but also to help coordinate military aid to the Ukraine ahead of a third meeting of donor nations convened by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, scheduled for June 15.

“We need to ensure that we have continued and coordinated support for the Ukrainians, both lethal and non-lethal,” Milley said.

Three months into the conflict, Milley acknowledged – amid reports of splits between allies over what a victory over Russia would look like – there are differences of opinion. Zelensky repeatedly said he wanted the Russians pushed back to where they were on February 23, before the full-scale invasion began, but he also said he was ready to negotiate with Moscow.

“I think this deal might be too strong a term,” Milley said in response to a question. “But generally speaking, most of the politicians of the different countries would say that the rules-based order must remain intact, that Ukraine must remain a free and sovereign country.”

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