The supposed agreement to allow Ukraine to resume agricultural exports by sea that was brokered by Turkey and Iran has been proceeding in fits and starts from the beginning. The day after the Kremlin signed off on the deal they turned around and shelled the port city of Odesa. But now, NBC News is reporting that the first ship full of corn has left Odesa and will bring the crops to ports in Africa. Of course, this assumes that the Russians don’t seize the ship during their “inspection” of it. It also assumes that the mines have been sufficiently cleared from that region of the Black Sea and the ship doesn’t mysteriously have a hole blown in it and sink. But if this shipment goes through, it could mark a return to at least some sense of “normalcy” for the Ukrainian economy after many months of a protracted war with the Russians.

The first ship carrying grain from Ukraine left a port in Odesa Monday, after months of Russian blockade helped fuel a mounting global food crisis.

The breakthrough follows a United Nations-backed deal between Kyiv and Moscow last month and while intense fighting continues in the east and the south. The departure of the first shipment will raise hopes that the impact of the war — now five months old — might be eased for millions facing hunger and poverty across the world, though doubts over Russia’s commitment to any deal will continue.

A vessel carrying 26,000 tons of corn set sail from the port in the country’s south, beginning its journey through heavily mined waters beyond the Black Sea and toward Lebanon’s Tripoli, according to a U.N.-led monitoring center.

NBC is being rather generous in saying that “doubts over Russia’s commitment to any deal will continue.” That’s putting it mildly. Russia has broken virtually every agreement they’ve made with Ukraine since the beginning of the war. You may recall how during the siege of Mariupol, the Russians agreed on three or more occasions to establish safe evacuation corridors for civilians. Each time, when people loaded up vehicles and attempted to leave the area, the Russians shelled the convoys.

There was a time when I would have been tempted to say ‘yes, but the world is watching.’ Now, however, I don’t think that fact matters a bit to Vladimir Putin. He controls the state-run media in Russia and his version of the story is the only one most of his people hear. What the rest of the world thinks clearly doesn’t matter to Mad Vlad, nor do all of the sanctions that he’s been hit with. That’s the nice thing about being an alleged trillionaire. You can afford to wait something like this out, even if your own people are starving.

If this ship isn’t attacked and the corn makes it to the international market, they can attempt more shipments in the coming weeks. If it doesn’t happen soon, a lot of those crops are going to spoil and all of this will have been for nothing.

Meanwhile, the actual war still doesn’t seem to be slowing down. A report over the weekend indicated that the Ukrainian forces have launched yet another push to the south, attempting to take back some of the territory that the Russians previously grabbed. Perhaps not coincidentally, some of this fighting is taking place only a short distance to the north of Odesa. (Associated Press)

The Ukrainians have used American-supplied rocket launchers to strike bridges and military infrastructure in the south, forcing Russia to divert its forces from the Donbas in the east to counter the new threat.

With the war in Ukraine now in its sixth month, the coming weeks may prove decisive.

While the bulk of Russian and Ukrainian military assets are conсentrated in the Donbas, the industrial region of mines and factories, both sides hope to make gains elsewhere.

In addition to the eastern industrial regions in the Donbas, Russia clearly wants to hold on to as much coastal area as possible. Controlling the ports gives them more opportunities when it comes to moving their naval forces around. It also cuts off Ukraine’s access to shipping and economic opportunities. When you look at this news of grain shipments resuming in that context, it’s all the easier to suspect that this could be a ruse on the part of the Russians. They have a lot of incentive to stop those shipments from happening and very little motivation to keep their promises.

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