BNN ANALYSES: Competition for stranded Ukrainian grain – Lithuania seeks wants precious cargo deliveries from Belarus, not from Poland

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
With Russia being the world’s top exporter of wheat and Ukraine among the top five (exporters) too, any disruption of the supply by a contingency like the war and its fallout threaten to result in severe shortages of flour and, some say, can lead to famine in developing countries.
As a result of the ongoing war, Ukraine is unable to ship some 20 million tons of grain from last year’s harvest through its ports and has asked for international assistance.
Being mindful of the acute issue, Lithuania has been spearheading international efforts to lift the ongoing blockade and clear the pathways for Ukrainian grain.
Lithuania is initiating a «coalition of the willing» to help escort Ukrainian grain exports out of the Black Sea port of Odessa, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis announced on May 25.
 Any plan would involve escorting ships past Russian military vessels.
Landsbergis discussed the idea with his UK counterpart Liz Truss during a visit to London last week.
The Lithuanian minister also emphasised that it is important that not only NATO and EU countries but also the countries that need grain today know exactly what the idea is.
«The aim is to inform countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Sahel that their well-being and access to food depends on the Russian blockade and its lifting,» he added.
Meeting in Vilnius on Monday, May 30, members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly called for a decision to be found soon on the transportation of grain and other products from Ukraine as Russia’s war on the country is entering its fourth month.
Lawmakers from Ukraine, Spain and the United Kingdom stressed that failure to find a solution might lead to a shortage of food in Africa and the Middle East, and that would subsequently risk causing new waves of immigration.
Ukraine is the fifth largest exporter of wheat in the world. At the end of May, the UN’s World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley warned that millions of people around the world would die with Ukrainian ports being blocked.
The Black Sea is bordered by Ukraine in the north, Russia and Georgia in the east, Turkey in the south, and Bulgaria and Romania in the west.
Lithuania has offered to transport freight by train from Ukraine via Poland to the port of Klaipeda, as an alternative to Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea port of Odessa which is currently blockaded by Russian forces.
According to Lithuanian president Nausėda, two recent arrivals of Ukrainian grain shipments in Lithuania by rail have shown that «such a route is possible».
But the problem is that it takes a long time – «an unjustifiable amount of time», in Nausėda’s words.
And if the journey can be shortened, it can become quicker just a little bit – by streamlining the logistics and certainly by reducing some of the phytosanitary requirements, which are very high at the Polish border and which are slowing down the process considerably.
The logical solution would be getting Ukrainian grain much quicker through Belarus, but that requires a political solution and would be against Poland’s economic interests.
The second train with grain from Ukraine arrived in Lithuania through last week. The grain was handled in Klaipeda by Bega, one of the port’s largest stevedoring companies.
But according to Bega, Poland does not use all the possibilities of the Lithuanian port. In its words, efficient logistics is possible only through Belarus. Then the port could handle about 10 million tons of grain, and when transporting through Poland only about 1 million, per day.
Having arrived in Šeštokai on the Lithuanian-Polish border on Monday, the train had to be put on the Lithuanian wide-gauge railway to reach Klaipėda on Tuesday.
Laimonas Rimkus, head of Bega, says transportation through Belarus would be better.
«Benefits come when the process is optimised and everything is done very efficiently, with high speed and optimal resources…It is more convenient for us to work in the old, traditional way, for those Lithuanian gauge wagons for which all the terminals are prepared… Imagine loading 1.8 thousand tons per day…We can handle 26 thousand tons of agricultural crops in one day. This is our commercial regime, which is beneficial,» he said.
According to Algis Latakas, CEO of Klaipeda port, such grain transportation through Poland in not «promising». According to him, a massive flow is possible only through Belarus.
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«The logical position is to discuss the humanitarian corridor through Belarus. Belarus plays a decisive role in the issue of the transportation of Ukrainian grain through the port of Klaipeda. Then, without doing anything extra, we could load about 6 million tons, even possibly up to 8-9 million,» he told Lithuanian media.
Lithuania has cut commercial ties with Belarus following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was partly launched from the Belarusian territory.
Before that, Lithuania had stopped the transit of Belarusian fertilisers via the country’s railways and Klaipeda port. This was a response to the Belarusian government’s repressions against the opposition.
The Lithuanian government decided that handling Belarusian cargo was incompatible with Lithuania’s national security.
Experts say that countries that decide to send their vessels to the Black Sea to protect grain ships are likely to face logistical challenges. For example, Turkey has prevented military vessels from sailing through the Bosporus Strait since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow was reportedly ready to provide a corridor for ships carrying food – but only in return for the lifting of some Western sanctions.
It is estimated that Ukraine produces 10 percent of grain consumed worldwide, as well 50 percent of groats and a significant proportion of sunflower used to produce oil.
Moreover, a new harvest will start in a couple of weeks, but its transporting through Ukraine’s southern ports being blocked by Russia is in limbo.