Briefings in the US that the Pentagon may send Ukraine sophisticated anti-ship missiles to sink Russian vessels blockading ports in the Black Sea and unlock food on which much of the world depends offer the prospect of one of the most dangerous moments in history since the end of the Second World War.
It ranks alongside the proxy war between North and South Korea in 1950-53 and the Able Archer Nato exercise of 1983 as an example of escalation that could result in a nuclear strike. However, the precedent it most resembles is the Cuban missile crisis when the US threw an exclusion zone around the Cuban archipelago and dared Soviet warships to enter it. We just need a remake of Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction to go full retro.
Vladimir Putin’s forces have been preventing grain and other produce from leaving the ports of the so-called breadbasket of Europe, triggering a global food crisis and prompting the UN to warn of “mass hunger and famine”. Moscow says it will only lift the blockade if sanctions imposed on Russia are dropped.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said: “The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military.”
The US and other Western nations are considering supplying Ukraine with sea-skimming harpoon and naval strike missiles with a range of 300km
Some 20 Russian navy craft, including submarines, are in the Black Sea.
Another sign that we are reaching a deeply serious stage of the conflict, on day 87 of the invasion, is the news that General Mark Milley, America’s chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, for the first time since February 24.
“On European and other fields, without our fertilisers, only juicy weeds will grow,” said former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev as the US and G7 committed to over €60bn in support for Ukraine, making it clear that weaponisation of food is a Russian tactic.
We have every opportunity to ensure that other countries have food and food crises do not happen. Just don’t interfere with our work
Ertharin Cousin, chief executive and founder of Food Systems for the Future, warned of ramifications across the world, saying: “Low-income economies risk devastation and
potential unrest. We’re not just talking about the poorest of the poor, who are already suffering from hunger. We’re also talking about people who could recently afford a loaf of bread for their families and who now will be unable to do so.”
The war is reaching stalemate. Russia cannot win and the Ukrainians cannot eject the Russians from large tracts of their territory. The temptation for both sides is to find a game changer. Therein lies the maximum possible danger.