My distinguished colleague and friend Melvin Goodman has had some terrific pieces up at Counterpunch recently, including great, searing critiques of Pres. Biden’s rehabilitation of Eliott Abrams, and of David Ignatius’s latest piece of compacent lunacy regarding Ukraine and Russia.
So imagine my surprise when I read Goodman’s latest piece there, in which he proposed that, “Implementing a grain airlift for Ukraine would be the obvious way to celebrate the 75th anniversary year of the Berlin Airlift, which was conducted from June 1948 to September 1949.”
This would be to deal with the global “crisis” of food availability/prices spurred by Russia’s decision not to regain the Black Sea grain arrangement that was reached last year under the joint auspices of the UN and the Government of Turkey. This crisis has, as you have probably seen, been much hyped by the Western corporate media.
Goodman seems to be urging in his piece that the U.S. military lead the airlift effort he proposes. He writes,
[T]here is no question that the United States has the moxie and the airlift capability to conduct such an operation…. The U.S. Air Force has more than 200 C-17s for such an airlift as well as three types of air refueling aircraft (KC-135 Stratotankers, K-10 Extenders, and KC-46 Pegasus).
This proposal strikes me as quite batty and (were it to be be implemented, which I dearly hope it never is) very seriously escalatory.
Goodman, by the way, is not the only person currently proposing forceful, unilateral (or anyway, non-UN-authorized) U.S. action to help Ukraine export its grain. The reliably hawkish retired U.S. admiral James Stavridis is also proposing that “NATO convoys can protect Ukraine’s grain.”
So here, just quickly, are my objections:
First, and most important, is that actually, global wheat prices have recently been considerably lower than they were last year. (See e.g. this.) So they’ve gone up a bit after the Black Sea Grain deal collapsed? Not the end of the world…
Of course the craven corporate media in this country wants to make it appear that Russia’s attacks on Odessa etc are harming the Global South. But that’s not exactly the case and I don’t hear any leaders in the Global South buying that argument… Indeed, all the most influential ones are in South Africa right now, making plans for the big BRICS summit due to be held there in a month’s time– at which Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavros will be an apparently valued participant.
Second, the concept of a Berlin-style airlift is of course not nearly as simple as it sounds. It would involve the airlifting planes flying into Ukraine and landing at airports there to load up their cargoes. Zero civilian planes are flying into Ukrainian airspace these days for the very good reason that the Russian air force exercises broad control over nearly all of it. So now, Goodman proposes that convoys of U.S. military planes fly in.
World War 3 alert, people! That is quite a bit different than just demonstrating Goodman’s “moxie”.
(The Berlin airlift, which involved having U.S. and British military planes fly briefly into Berlin to speedily dump the humanitarian cargoes they were taking in, were a deliberate and knowing challenge to the Soviet military’s control of the airspace of East German, in the middle of which sat beleaguered West Berlin. It involved clear risks. But in the chaos of those early post-1945 years, those were risks that London and Washington judged worth taking. Fwiw, the Soviet Union did not demonstrate its acquisition of nuclear weapons capability until a year later.)
Third, the Black Sea Grain deal had at least three important components: (a) The Ukrainians got to export their grain under international supervision, and under an arrangement that involved having Ukrainian pilots guide the ships through the Ukrainian minefields near their ports and then Russian pilots guide them through the Russian minefields further out. (b) There was rigorous and trusted international inspection (by Türkiye and the UN) of cargoes going both in and out of Ukrainian ports. Because you know, Ukraine might have been bringing arms etc in on those same boats. Gasp! (c) In return for its participation, Russia got assurances that the financial sanctions and other impediments imposed by Western nations on its exports of grains and other agricultural exports would be lifted.
When renewal time came up, the Russians stated that the third of those conditions was not realized/respected. Hence, no renewal.
So today, with a US/Western “airlift” of grains out of Ukraine, what body, trusted by both sides would do the inspecting of planes going into Ukraine to pick up the shipments? Just worth asking!
Finally: all the financial and massive environmental costs of using air transport to transport grain?? Those would get borne by whom? And to make what point?
(Maybe the East Europeans could be pushed to do a bit more to aid Ukrainian grain exports– something they have until now been very reluctant to do?)