EU denounces Russian 'war crimes' as tensions mount

"The war of aggression against Ukraine puts the world in danger of a famine affecting hundreds of millions of people."
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell addresses a video press conference at the conclusion of a video conference of EU foreign affairs ministers in Brussels, April 22, 2020 (Photo: Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell addresses a video press conference at the conclusion of a video conference of EU foreign affairs ministers in Brussels, April 22, 2020 (Photo: Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, charged on Monday, ahead of a meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers, that Russia was blockading grain exports from Ukraine, as he denounced the Russian action as a "real war crime."

At the same time, the US government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that "satellite images" support the charge that Russia is moving "huge quantities of stolen Ukrainian grain to Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria."

Moreover, the confrontation between the US and Europe on the one hand and Russia on the other also appears to be rising tensions in Syria and the Baltic states.

Famine in Africa?

Ukraine is a major exporter of foodstuffs, such as wheat, corn, and vegetable oil, and Borrell called on Russia to end its siege of Ukraine's ports. 

"It is inconceivable, one cannot imagine that millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine," he said, "while in the rest of the world, people are suffering from hunger."

Three weeks ago, on May 31, the African Union warned EU leaders that Russia's blockade of Ukraine risked creating "a catastrophic scenario" if it continued because of Africa's "strong dependence" on Russian and Ukrainian wheat. 

"The war of aggression against Ukraine puts the world in danger of a famine affecting hundreds of millions of people," Borrell wrote on June 18 in his 'A Window on the World' blog. 

"We must urgently enable Ukraine to export its grains," Borrell affirmed in his post.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and other European leaders traveled to Kiev on Thursday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Afterward, Draghi warned of the urgent need to establish a schedule for releasing the grain as "the drama of a world famine naturally concentrated in the poorest parts of the world, especially Africa, is approaching."

Several ideas have been raised that would do that, including by Turkey, France, and the US. None, however, has yet been accepted by the two key actors, Ukraine and Russia.

US-Russia Confrontation in Syria

Recent Russian military actions in Syria have "alarmed" US military officials, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. It cited two such incidents.

One occurred in northern Syria, where the US-led Coalition against ISIS works with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against the terrorist group.

Russia last week "deployed two Su-34 jet fighters to a site where the US was conducting a raid in northeast Syria to apprehend an Islamic State bomb maker," the Journal reported. "The jet fighters pulled back after the US scrambled its own F-16 fighters to warn the Russian jets to leave the area," US military officials told the Journal. 

Separately, the anti-ISIS Coalition revealed details of a June 16 raid near Aleppo. As a Coalition statement explained, it seized an "experienced bomb maker and operational facilitator who became one of the top leaders in the Syrian branch of ISIS."

The statement also affirmed, "Coalition forces will continue to work with our partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces, including the Peshmerga, to hunt the remnants of ISIS wherever they hide to ensure their enduring defeat."

Of course, Aleppo is in the northwest rather than northeast Syria. So there appears to be some confusion. Perhaps, there were two raids last week in which an experienced ISIS bomb-makers was captured. Yet it seems more likely that there was just one raid, and it occurred in northwest Syria.

That same week, Russia carried out airstrikes at al-Tanf, a US military base in Syria, near its border with Jordan, where an Arab anti-ISIS group, Maghawir al-Thawra, is based.

No US military forces were present at the time, but the Russian attack marked what a US military official called "a significant increase in provocation" over the past month. 

Russian-Danish Military Tensions

On Friday, on the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, Denmark held a democracy festival, which senior lawmakers and business people attended.

Russian warships twice violated Danish territorial waters, prompting official protest. Denmark's Foreign Minister tweeted his denunciation of the violations, describing it as "a deeply irresponsible, gross and completely unacceptable Russian provocation in the middle of #fmdk [Democracy Festival of Denmark]."

Last month, Ukraine's defense minister announced that his country had begun to receive Harpoon missiles from Denmark. 

On Friday, Ukraine announced that its forces had hit a Russian naval tugboat with two Harpoon missiles, the first time it claimed to have struck a Russian ship with such anti-ship missiles. 


Lithuania was an independent country before World War II. But in August 1939, as the Western powers hesitated to confront the German Nazi leader, Adolph Hitler, he and the Communist leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, concluded a non-aggression pact.

A secret protocol to that accord included the German agreement to a Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Europe that included Lithuania. That agreement paved the way for Hitler's attack on Poland the next month, precipitating a full-scale war, World War II.

In that context, Stalin forcibly incorporated Lithuania into the Soviet Union. In March 1990, some 50 years later, as Soviet rule mellowed under the reformist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lithuania declared its independence.

This created an anomalous situation: Kaliningrad is now a Russian exclave—part of Russia but separated from it. Nonetheless, it is strategic territory for Moscow: a warm water port on the Baltic Sea.

Map showing the Russian exclave Kaliningrad (AFP)
Map showing the Russian exclave Kaliningrad (AFP)

On Friday, Lithuania's railroad announced that it would no longer transport Russian goods subject to EU sanctions, above all steel and iron ore, through Lithuania to Kaliningrad. 

Moscow responded angrily. "Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions," Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Security Council, said. 

"Appropriate measures" will be taken soon, he continued, and "their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania."

Asked about such Russian threats on Tuesday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price responded, "Lithuania is a member of the NATO Alliance," and "we stand by the commitments that we have made to the NATO Alliance." 

"We stand by NATO. We stand by our NATO Allies," Price affirmed, "and we stand by Lithuania."