State of the Union: Ukraine grain deal fails, as Russia tries to garner support
Poland and Hungary are among five EU countries which complain that Ukranian grain is undercutting their own farmers and industries.
This week saw talks between the European Commission and five Eastern European countries fail over a standoff over the imports of tariff-free Ukrainian grain, which bordering nations argue is distorting the market and depressing prices for local farmers.
The dispute has seen trade bans on Ukrainian goods and raised questions over how long the EU's solidarity with the war-torn country would last.
Before the talks, Brussels had pitched a series of what it called "exceptional" measures which would have allowed for the transit of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds through the five countries, but without being purchased for domestic consumption or stored in their territories.
A new package of assistance for affected farmers worth €100 million was also on the table, but a deal failed to materialise.
"We underlined the importance of rapidly following a common EU approach, rather than unilateral solutions to avoid multiple bans and solutions which put the internal market at risk," the European Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, and Janusz Wojciechowski, the Commissioner for Agriculture, both said following the unsuccessful talks.
"The Commission took note of the views presented by participants. We agreed to continue political consultations in the coming days in view of a swift solution."
The five concerned member states, four of which border Ukraine, had complained for weeks now that low-cost Ukrainian grain was flooding their markets, filling up storage and putting local producers at a disadvantage.
As part of its assistance to Kyiv, the EU agreed last year to suspend tariffs and duties on a wide range of Ukrainian products, including foodstuffs, with the aim of helping the country sustain its fragile economy and compensate for the disruption in the Black Sea route, which is under tight Russian control.
The move has helped ease the transport of Ukrainian cereals, on which many developing countries heavily depend, and had a positive effect in bringing down global commodity prices.
Lavrov tours Latin America
The Kremlin will likely be lapping up these types of divisions in the EU over Ukraine, especially at a time when Moscow is pulling out all the stops when it comes to international diplomacy.
When you are listening to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, you get the impression that Russia is the world champion of human rights.
This week, the Kremlin’s biggest spin doctor was on a trip to Latin America, trying to enlist allies against “the Collective West”, as he put it.
In Venezuela, he met with President Nicolas Maduro, a like-minded beacon of democracy who, by the way, just launched his own television show on a public channel, a year before the next elections.
Praising Russia and Venezuela’s commitment to the principles of the UN charter, Lavrov, with a straight face, had this to say.
"We speak from a unified position in defence of the right of people to determine their own future, their destiny without outside interference, without dictate and blackmail. And without, of course, attempts to influence them through illegal unilateral and restrictive measures.”
Ukraine's spring counteroffensive
Meanwhile, the EU and the United States reaffirmed their enduring support for Ukraine, especially militarily.
But experts are beginning to wonder if this is enough to turn the tide of the war.
The situation on the ground has been at a stalemate for months now, and talk about a Ukrainian spring offensive has so far turned out to be just that: talk.
Rafael Loss, a foreign and security policy expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview that movement on that front can be expected soon.
"Spring just started and we're certainly seeing preparations," he told Euronews.
"We should be acknowledging that the start of Ukraine's spring offensive will look rather confusing. The Ukrainians will attempt to confuse the Russian leadership. They will try to probe Russia's lines and occupied areas to identify weaknesses where they can punch through with the help of Western-provided modern tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, long-range artillery and so on and so forth.
"But we've also seen that Russia's winter offensive has sort of fizzled out," Loss added.
Whatever military problems Russia might have, they keep bringing death and destruction to the civilian population in Ukraine.
This week, one person died and several were injured when Russian artillery hit a market in the southern city of Kherson.
The area is close to partially occupied provinces where fierce fighting continues as Russian forces struggle to advance.
Russian troops retreated from Kherson last November, and have been reinforcing their positions on the opposite bank of the Dnipro river in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Something that still left the people of Kherson a Russian target.
So much for Sergey Lavrov’s right of people to determine their own destiny without outside interference.
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