Britain unlikely to join naval convoy to break Russia's grain blockade

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Silos and containers on the dockside at the Port of Odesa - Nathan Laine/Bloomberg
Silos and containers on the dockside at the Port of Odesa - Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

British warships are unlikely to be deployed off the coast of Ukraine to lift the Russian Black Sea blockade on the country’s exports, sources said.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, is said to be exploring a range of other options to ensure the “safe passage for vessels carrying food”.

Lithuania has mooted a plan for a “coalition of the willing” that would break through Russia’s blockade by providing a “protective corridor” through the Black Sea.

It led to reports that the British navy could join allies in a convoy to escort Ukrainian grain and alleviate a global food crisis.

But foreign office sources said current discussions don’t go "as far as using warships" to help unblock the war-torn country's ports.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned on Tuesday morning that the blockade may create a global "famine that could dwarf the numbers involved in the war itself".

Under plans put forward by Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, a protective convoy could include some Nato countries, alongside others like Egypt, who are heavily reliant on the grain.

Allied navies would clear the area of mines and protect freight ships carrying produce from the Russian military.

The sea around Ukrainian ports has been heavily mined by Ukraine to keep out Russian warships. Ukraine would need assurances from Russia that it wouldn't attack if the mines were removed.

A Navy source said an international agreement would have to be in place. "China, UK, USA, Europe would need to broker this, it's not something the Navy can do on it's on. Something needs to be done, it needs a grown up discussion."

The plan comes as Denmark says it will provide Ukraine with a Ukraine a harpoon launcher and missiles as part of a security agreement, Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, said on Monday.

With a range of 200 miles, they would allow Ukraine to target the six Black Sea Fleet ships and two submarines blockading the northwestern part of the Black Sea.

Russia “holding hostage the vulnerable countries of the world”, Mr Austin added.

He said countries “could provide ships or planes that would be stationed in the Black Sea and provide maritime passage for the grain ships to leave Odesa’s port and reach the Bosphorus in Turkey”.

Ms Truss said: “What we need to do is deal with this global food security issue and the UK is working on an urgent solution to get the grain out of Ukraine”.

The ongoing war has severely destabilised global trade, pushing many countries towards a hunger crisis.

Huge loads of grain and other essential items remain unused in Ukrainian warehouses.

Together, Ukraine and Russia are responsibly for the export of a third of the world's wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil.

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