Open letter from the National Anti-Crisis Management on the inadmissibility of opening Baltic ports to Belarusian potash in exchange for transit of Ukrainian grain
We appeal to the governments of Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and the United States, as well as to the UN and the European Commission.
We are deeply concerned by the food crisis being engineered by Putin and Lukashenka to escape some of the economic sanctions rightfully imposed on them. Putin’s army wages a full-blown, aggressive war that Europe has not seen for almost 80 years, and Lukashenka is a co-aggressor in it, pursuant to the UNGA resolution of 1974. Lukashenka’s share of the blame is not to be underestimated: the grave war crimes of Bucha and Irpen would have simply not been possible without his assistance, as all military units that participated in the siege of Kyiv arrived in Ukraine from the Belarusian territory, conveniently arranged by Lukashenka.
As you are aware, the Russian navy is blocking Ukrainian ports and preventing the shipping of the grain. The Putin-Lukashenka axis alleges that the only practical option to ship the grain is via Baltic ports, and that requires rail transit via Belarus, or else a world food crisis will emerge. The price demanded for that transit: the free passage of Belarusian goods including potash via Klaipeda.
First, if a crisis is emerging, the solution must be fast and scalable. However, the calculations show, that the practical throughput of that link is at most two million tons a month. This means that at least a year will be required to transport the grain in need of the shipments — without adjusting for the decreased throughput, as Belarusian potash will essentially compete for capacity with the grain. The solution taking over a year cannot be considered urgent.
Second, Ukrainian grain constitutes less than 10% of the world grain exports (8.5% in 2021) — without the share already reported stolen by the Russians. Such a shortage will undoubtedly raise prices but falls short of an end-of-the-world food crisis.
Therefore, both the crisis and the solution are somewhat overestimated, apparently to reach Lukashenka’s goal of relaxing the sanctions. This would be not the first crisis he engineered — just last year he shamelessly engineered a migration crisis in an attempt to influence the EU — without any regard for the lives of the affected migrants. So, allow us to dismiss this newfound concern for the hungry and call it what it is — hypocritical extortion.
First, if Lukashenka wishes to save the world from starvation, he can AND MUST do it without any preconditions for the “land-locked” Ukraine. The only effective option is to talk to the dictators in the only language they understand, and that is a language of force and inevitability. Therefore, if the grain crisis is deemed credible, the only effective way would be not to give in to the dictator’s bluff, but to threaten him with immediate and severe sanctions, should he attempt to demand something in return for free passage of the grain on the established commercial conditions. Such sanctions could include, but not be limited to, freezing the remaining assets of Belarus’s National Bank, freezing correspondent accounts of all Belarusian commercial banks as well as excluding them from the SWIFT network, stopping rail links, and others.
We also want to stress, that the conditions for the relaxation of the sanctions are not arbitrary. They were set forth in the US’ Belarus Democracy Act and the EU decisions which include:
- The release of political prisoners,
- The prosecution of those responsible for fraudulent elections and unprecedented violence that followed, and
- The holding of free, fair, and transparent presidential and parliamentary elections.
Notably, taking Ukrainian grain hostage is not listed among the conditions.
Not only there has been no progress in a single area from the list, but as a matter of fact, the situation has worsened in all of them. The number of political prisoners has increased, those responsible for the violence have been promoted, and fair elections are further than ever after the referendum that tried to perpetuate Lukashenka’s hold on power.
Releasing the sanctions based solely on the dictators’ bluff, without them accepting a single demand, will have grave consequences. It will reinforce the extortionists’ belief that this method of dealing with the world is productive, and, therefore, will have adverse consequences that far transcend this crisis.
We urge you not to blink.
Ambassador Pavel Latushka
Head of the National Anti-crisis Management
Member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council