In recent months, Moscow has intensified its attacks on Ukrainian grain export routes that are dangerously close to NATO member Romania. Is Putin playing with fire?
One day, perhaps, there will be a movie about "The Battle of the Danube," much like René Clément directed The Battle of the Rails in 1946, about the French railway workers' resistance during World War II. But for now, it's a war, in its most brutal form: a war to prevent Ukraine from exporting its grains and cereals, which part of the world needs for sustenance.
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea, to convince him to reconsider the cereal agreement he had denounced in July. In vain. Even for Erdogan, Putin did not yield. He only offered to supply one million tons of Russian cereals, via Turkey, to six African countries allied with Moscow, such as Mali or Eritrea.
The Russian blockade thus keeps preventing Ukraine from exporting its cereals, its primary source of wealth, through the most natural route: from the port of Odessa via the Black Sea. Only four ships have managed to pass since July — a mere drop in the ocean.
Hence, the search for an alternative route remains, and this is where the war takes a worrying turn.
The territory at risk
Recently, Iranian-made drones and Russian missiles have been focused on another cereal route, which passes through the delta of the Danube River and Romania — NATO territory — from where it can be shipped to the rest of the world.
On Monday, there was a major scare as Ukraine announced that a missile had landed in Romanian territory, before Bucharest denied the news. It was still a close call as Ukraine and Romania lie only 200 meters apart, right where the Danube Delta opens into the Black Sea.
Since July, the Russians have been bombing the Ukrainian river ports of Reni and Izmail, southwest of Odessa, which are the closest to Romania. They have destroyed port facilities and stocks of cereals stored for export. It is in this region that the "Battle of the Danube" is being waged.
Border guard on the premises of the ferry crossing over the Danube river Orlivka-Isaccea at the international entry point between Ukraine and Romania, Odesa Region, southern Ukraine.
Clause of solidarity
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukrainians and Romanians have been working to improve this corridor, which was previously neglected because it was less convenient than the Black Sea. In just a year and a half, logistics experts have achieved remarkable results.
Once a haven for flamingos, now the target of Iranian drones.
The port of Reni has gone from handling 1 million tons per year to over 1 million tons per month! Ukrainian river ports, as well as trucks and trains, already account for 25% of exports through the Romanian port of Constanța. These goods are loaded onto cargo ships that safely traverse the Bosphorus Strait. This percentage is expected to increase, providing Ukraine with some measure of relief.
This explains why Russia has intensified its attacks on this region, once a natural haven for flamingos before it became the target of Iranian drones.
The risk is that the war could come even closer to NATO territory, covered by the alliance's solidarity clause. NATO troops are stationed in Romania, ready to defend the territory. Putin is playing with fire by coming so close to this border.