Cargo ship from Ukrainian port runs into mine on Black Sea

The European Commission's decision not to extend the import ban on Ukrainian grain in five member states has led to new tensions, unilateral embargoes and new discontent among farmers.

Ukraine's promise to take its own measures to better control exports has failed to calm several neighboring countries. 

Now that Ukraine is trying to open new shipping routes on the western side of the Black Sea (through the maritime territory of NATO countries Romania and Bulgaria), a cargo ship struck a (presumably: drifted) sea mine for the first time yesterday. That happened ten nautical miles off the coast. The ship has not suffered a leak, but the crew was taken off board by helicopter.

EU measures in recent months allowed Ukrainian agricultural products to be transported overland to EU ports through Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, but prevented them from being sold on local markets. That agreement expired last Friday and the European Commission decided not to extend it because there were now no more market disruptions.

Hungary then said it would close the border to 24 Ukrainian products. The government of Poland followed suit and extended a Polish embargo on Ukrainian grain. The issue is particularly sensitive in Poland in the run-up to next month's elections. Slovakia has announced that it will ban imports of four commodities, including wheat, until the end of the year.

These measures are contrary to the EU policy of one common market.

In response, Kiev said it had filed lawsuits against the three neighbors at the World Trade Organization (WTO). EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he was “quite surprised that Ukraine chose this route,” but agriculture ministers of most EU countries showed understanding for Ukraine's position early this week.

The Netherlands wants the European Commission to take action now that Poland, Hungary and Slovakia continue to ban Ukrainian agricultural products on their own. “I have made it clear today that this is not the way to deal with Ukraine,” Agriculture Minister Piet Adema said on Monday after consultations with his EU colleagues.

The Commission could, among other things, initiate criminal proceedings that could bring the three obstructive EU countries before the European courts. It can impose fines and penalties, but that will take at least several months.