As It Happens·Q&A

Grain shipment out of Odesa shows 'one more failure of Putin', says Ukrainian MP

The resumption of grain shipments from the port of Odesa isn’t just good news for Ukrainians, says MP Oleksiy Goncharenko. He says it shows weakness in Russian president Vladimir Putin, and will also help countries struggling with a food shortage.

MP Oleksiy Goncharenko cautiously optimistic about export deal, warns Russia will try to disrupt it

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, a Turkish Polarnet cargo ship is loading Ukrainian grain in a port in Odesa region, Ukraine, Friday, July 29, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/The Associated Press)

Story Transcript

The resumption of grain shipments from the port of Odesa isn't just good news for Ukrainians, says MP Oleksiy Goncharenko. He says it shows weakness in Russian president Vladimir Putin, and will also help countries struggling with a food shortage. 

The first ship set sail on Monday as part of a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey which will allow safe passage for Ukrainian ships traveling through the Black Sea.

Until then, the Russian blockade had severely limited movement there, preventing millions of tons of grain and other exports from leaving the country. Ukraine is one of the largest exporters of grain, and the war has fueled a global food crisis

While Goncharenko says Ukraine's renewed ability to export will help both Ukraine and other countries, he believes more help is needed to protect the supply chain. Goncharenko spoke with As It Happens guest host Paul Hunter. Here's part of that conversation. 

Ukraine's minister of infrastructure posted a video to Twitter today of the ship sounding its horn as it left the port. What was that like for you? I take it you were there watching. 

Yeah, I was there witnessing it. And it was a big moment, not only for Ukraine, but also for the whole world, because that is the day of at least partial liberation of the Black Sea from this barbaric blockade of Putin, which has full consequences for the whole planet; the food crisis, which causes the peaking of food prices throughout the whole world, millions of people starving, new waves of migrants and refugees, social unrest, hunger strikes. 

So all of what Putin wants to see in the world, unfortunately, he could achieve it through this blockade. And finally, this blockade failed. And the first ship [since] February 24 left Odesa port. 

What was the mood around you? Was it celebratory? Because, of course, the war continues. 

The war continues. And I can tell you that this news and this event is even more important for the world than for Ukraine. But many people definitely were happy to see [it]. 

A cargo ship is in the water.
The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship, Razoni carrying Ukrainian grain leaves the port, in Odesa, Ukraine, August 1, 2022, in this screen grab taken from a handout video. (Oleksandr Kubrakov/Ukraine Ministry of Infrastructure/Reuters)

It also is a sign of one more failure of Putin. He tried to annex and take Kyiv. He failed. He tried to take Odesa, the biggest city on the Black Sea, my native city, and [the] region of which I represent in the parliament. And he failed. 

So even from this point of view, that is important. 

How important is it for Ukraine to get these shipments moving again? 

It is important because definitely for us in this war of attrition, which we already have unfortunately in Ukraine… every dollar matters. And we are speaking about probably billions of dollars to the Ukrainian economy. Also, it means that Ukrainian farmers will have financial resources to make seeds in autumn. 

And that means that Ukraine will be secure next year for all from the point of view of food. And not only Ukraine, but also we will again export the grain to the world because Ukraine is a breadbasket of not only Europe like it was said before, but of the whole world like we see today.

So from all these points of view, definitely that is important. But also I would like to tell you that we should be very, very attentive, because Putin will not stop the attempts to disrupt this deal, to destroy this corridor, to prevent Ukrainian grain from reaching the world food market, like he did when, even before the ink on the agreement dried, he attacked Odesa with missiles and Odesa ports with missiles. So a clear violation of the deal. So he will definitely continue such attacks. And so we should be very, very attentive. 

And yet the Kremlin has called the departure of the ship, quote, very positive. I wonder what's in this for Russia? 

Oh, what would you want them to say. That this is their failure and they're very unhappy? They will never say this, never acknowledge it, but definitely they are very unhappy and definitely they don't like it. So you should be absolutely sure about this. 

WATCH | Ukrainian tugboat blares its horn as ship leaves Odesa

Ukrainian grain ship leaves Odesa for the first time since war began

11 days ago
Duration 3:11
A ship carrying Ukrainian grain has set off from the port of Odesa for the first time since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24. This is following a landmark deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that allows safe passage of grain shipments through the Black Sea. It is hoped the agreement will ease the global food crisis and lower the price of grain.

Authorities in your country say there are 16 more ships with supplies ready to go. But again, the war continues. Farmers are struggling. Harvest levels are lower than they have been in the past. How much relief do you think this agreement can really bring to the food crisis, especially in Africa? 

It's giving some relief. It's very important from a psychological point of view, that there is an answer, that it is not a full blockade. 

Speaking about numbers, the deal is for four months, for the moment. Our calculations show that we can't make more than three million tonnes because there are some restrictions in this deal, for example, that the ships can move only during daytime in this area. 

So we can't do like five million [tonnes] like it was before the invasion. So probably three. And Putin will do everything he can to make 2.5 or two million tonnes. 

It will give relief. But it is not a complete answer, definitely. But better something than nothing. The complete answer is Putin understands only one language, the language, of force. So if NATO warships will be in the Black Sea, that will be the end of this blackmail of Putin. 

Because in reality, after the Ukrainian army destroyed part of his Black Sea fleet, after the liberating of Snake Island in the Black Sea. He is, in reality, not capable to keep the blockade against the warships. 

So that will be the best option. But unfortunately for the moment, the West is not ready for such steps. 

The deal expires in four months. What happens then? 

Nobody knows. 

Short answer. 

Yes, short and clear. We are ready to continue the deal. We are ready to continue shipments. But who can say what will be in four months? 

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