Op-Ed by U.S. Ambassador to Romania Kathleen Kavalec
September 18, 2023
Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe, claimed thousands of lives and cut off critical food supplies from Ukraine to the world. To its great credit, Romania, working with the United States, Moldova, and the EU, has responded to Russia’s attacks on global food security by accelerating Ukrainian food exports through the Danube to Constanta and beyond.
Russia’s unilateral and callous withdrawal in July from the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) has disrupted grain markets, threatened global food security, and prevented food from reaching the world’s most vulnerable populations. Until then, the BSGI had served as a vital humanitarian corridor that allowed Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to export grains and essential goods, bypassing Russia’s blockade. Thanks to the BSGI, hundreds of vessels transported nearly 33 million metric tons of grain and foodstuff worldwide from Ukraine via the Black Sea.
While Russia has chosen to weaponize food, the United States, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and the European Union have together sought to look for viable solutions to counter Russia’s withdrawal from BSGI and its continued assaults on Ukrainian grain shipments and food transport infrastructure.
The Solidarity lanes established by the EU last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provide new transport infrastructure that allow almost all of Ukraine’s grain exports to reach global markets even if Putin refuses to open the Odessa port. Over the last year, these routes have gone from exporting roughly three million tons of commodities a year to almost three million tons exported each month.
Romania stands out in Europe for the critical role it has played in supporting the export of Ukrainian grain to world markets. In fact, more than half of all the grain exported by Ukraine has transited through Romania on its way to consumers all around the world. Romania has facilitated the shipment of nearly 30 million tons of Ukrainian grain through the Danube and Constanta Port since the start of the war.
Romania’s assistance to Ukraine also benefits Romanians. Not only have Romania’s EU-financed efforts to modernize its own rail, river, and port infrastructure enhanced the efficiency of grain transport in the region, but they have also stimulated economic growth at home. Investments in Romanian infrastructure help boost Romanian exports and imports, create more jobs for Romanian workers in agriculture, engineering and construction, and attract more investment into Romania. Better infrastructure will facilitate the movement of people and goods, reducing travel time and costs.
Just as important, Romania’s leadership in this area has helped avert hunger and helped lower food prices worldwide. Romanians can take pride in the critical role that their country has played in making sure that life-sustaining grain continues to reach those who need it most.
The United States is proud to partner with Romania in support of these important efforts. U.S. and EU officials have been working together this year to facilitate discussions among Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania about ways to improve and expand these networks to allow Ukrainian grain to continue to flow in larger quantities. This was the focus of the international meeting Romania hosted in Constanta on September 15. With U.S. and the EU support, Romania has set an ambitious and important goal of doubling the amount of Ukrainian grain that is shipped out via Danube ports to world markets by November.
The United States is deeply grateful to Romania for these and other efforts to counter Russia’s unprovoked, horrific aggression against Ukraine. Russia has targeted Ukrainian grain infrastructure with drone attacks. Romania has found debris from drones on its sovereign territory. There is no excuse for Russia’s targeting and destruction of grain that is desperately needed in vulnerable nations – Russia bears full responsibility for its actions.
We cannot afford to let Putin get away with his behavior. We must ensure that there is a high price for Russia’s action, and that Putin faces international isolation and pressure, not business as usual. The United States reiterates its call on Russia to cease attacking Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, rejoin the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and extend, expand, and fully implement this vital agreement.
As strategic partners, close friends, and key allies in this fight, the United States will continue to stand together with Romania, as we continue to provide vital support to Ukraine.