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The flight of Russian forces from Snake Island Thursday, after protracted attacks by Ukraine, offers hope that more grain shipments will make it through Vladimir Putin’s Black Sea blockade. Yet President Joe Biden needs a strategy to make sure that happens, and keeps happening as long as this war drags on.
Ukrainian wheat exports alone account for 8.5% of the global total; they leave from the nation’s Black Sea ports. Stopping those supplies from reaching the marketplace via a blockade could well trigger a humanitarian catastrophe and worsen global economic stability.
Confronting the blockade directly is one option. US or NATO ships might serve as escorts for commercial traffic, significantly raising the costs for Putin to continue the blockade.
This is likely the riskiest move. But it would leave the first attack to Russia, which has now experienced two big losses in the theater: Snake Island and the sinking of its flagship cruiser Moskva. The brutal Russian missile attack on coastal Serhiivka Friday suggests Putin is feeling the pain.
The United States has other options, too. It might arrange for NATO members to provide Ukraine more Harpoon anti-ship missiles. It could also, as some analysts suggest, support an effort to move the grain overland to a non-Ukrainian port.
Whatever the plan, Washington needs to display clear, strong leadership here. Biden’s dithering — on MiG deliveries and other issues — has already raised the toll of the conflict.
Yes, any confrontation with Russia will come with risks. But the West cannot allow the world to starve or the economy to crash because it fears the Moscow madman.