Almost six months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ceasefire still seems distant. After prioritizing attacks on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, leaving Mariupol in ashes and trying to dominate the cities of the Donbas Basin, the Russians are turning with force to a strategic point in the neighboring country: the south coast, in particular Odesa, known as “ the pearl of the Black Sea”.
In addition to being economically rich, with productive soil, it is the gateway to and from the country, which places it within one of the main military and geopolitical objectives of Russian President Vladimir Putin in this invasion.
Commercial potential of the Ukrainian coast
Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s third largest wheat exporter and the fourth largest corn exporter. The country used to export 5 million tons of wheat per month and, together with Russia, it accounted for 30% of world grain exports.
During the months of conflict, Russia has demonstrated that it is capable of preventing the neighboring country’s grain from leaving the Black Sea and by the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine had to go out of its way to transport a very small part of its production by land, through Romania and German railways. Wheat exports dropped 80% in the first month.
“Opening up these sea lanes would require a very significant military effort by a country or even a group of countries,” said US Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, pointing to the mine blockade. and the Russian Navy off the coast of Ukraine.
Putin uses the agricultural crisis to try to break his trade isolation. “Russia is ready to help find options for exporting grain without impediments, including Ukrainian grain that is in Black Sea ports,” the Russian president said in June at a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
If this is the reality during the conflict, it is possible to imagine what it would be like if Russia definitively dominated the coastal coast and the Ukrainians had to ask permission and pay the Russians to export by the sea.
Military importance of the coast
In addition to the commercial advantage, the Ukrainian coast represents, for Russia, a military security. By sea, it is easier to unload troops, with less risk of losing fighters.
“If you don’t have control of the beach, you need to unload troops in amphibious landings , with losses that could mean defeat”, highlighted Marcelo Suano, professor of International Relations and specialist in military affairs.
By conquering the coast, Russia can encircle Ukraine, transforming it a in a Mediterranean country, blocking any exit of products, movement of troops and even movement of the population. “An opponent that doesn’t have an outlet to the sea will always be dependent on the one that does”, reinforced Suano.