Early morning on Wednesday, August 2nd, Romanians living near the Danube River, a natural border with Ukraine, woke up to the sound of explosions.
Right across the river, Ukraine’s port city of Izmail, a key route for grain exports through the Black Sea, was being pummeled by Russian drone attacks. While no casualties were reported, a grain warehouse, a passenger building, and an elevator for loading grain were damaged.
Almost 40,000 tonnes of grain destined for African countries, China, and Israel were destroyed, Ukraine—one of the world’s top grain exporters—said. “These are the very ports that have become the foundation of global food security today,” Ukrainian minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted.
“The world must respond. When civilian ports are targeted, when terrorists deliberately destroy even grain elevators, it is a threat to everyone on all continents. Russia can and must be stopped,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram.
That same morning, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis condemned the “unacceptable” strikes “in the proximity of Romania” in a tweet.
Calling them “war crimes,” he said these attacks would “further affect Ukraine’s capacity to transfer their food products towards those in need in the world.”
Romania offered to mitigate the impending disaster. On Thursday, August 3rd, indicating that the attacks hadn’t caused trade to come to a grinding halt, Romania said it would clear customs for up to 30 ships waiting to enter its territory from Ukrainian ports over the next two days.
Citing Sergei Lebedev, a man described as an underground group’s coordinator in the Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv, the Russian state news agency RIA said that the targets of the attack—the port and grain infrastructure—were housing foreign mercenaries and military hardware, which, under the rules of war, would make them valid targets. A naval ship repair yard was also targeted, it said.
Moscow has described its attacks on Ukraine’s grain infrastructure as retaliation for a Ukrainian-claimed attack on the Kerch Strait bridge, used by Russia to supply its troops in southern Ukraine.
Last week, Russian drones also struck a grain hangar in the port city of Reni, just upstream from Izmajil. Reni is also near the border with Romania, more than a hundred kilometers from the Black Sea.
Reni and Izmail had become Ukraine’s main ports through which to export its grain after last month’s termination of the UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal by Russia.
With Ukraine’s Black Sea ports having been blockaded and attacked ever since, its foodstuffs reach the Danube by road or rail, or via Moldova. From there, ships transport their cargo across the Danube to the Romanian port city of Constanta, from which it can reach the outside world.
On August 2nd, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during which he reiterated Russia’s condition for rejoining the Black Sea grain deal: that terms for improving Russia’s own food and fertilizer exports be implemented.
Putting aside the food exports issue, Russia’s latest attack is a stark reminder that its prosecution of the war in Ukraine is edging ever closer to NATO territory, of which Romania is part.
While the military alliance has been providing Kyiv with billions worth of weapons and equipment for a year and a half, it has been careful to avoid any member states from becoming directly involved, since under NATO’s founding treaty’s Article 5, any armed attack against one or more member states is considered an attack against all.
NATO countries that share borders with Ukraine—Romania, Hungary, Poland—who are experiencing the war on their doorstep, need to keep a level head, lest the entire alliance is dragged into a wider conflict, from which a clear winner, in a nuclear age, is unlikely to emerge.