June 26, 1948: Berlin Airlift--Soviet Union Blockade Similar to Russia Blocking Ukraine's Access to the Black Sea

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On June 25, 1948, Berlin became isolated by a blockade by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union wanted to consolidate control of Berlin. Their tactic? Cutting off all land and sea routes to access West Berlin to pressure the Allies occupying Berlin to evacuate. 2 million people in Berlin were without food, fuel for heating elements, and many other critical supplies needed for survival. [i]

Wary of launching a full-blown, direct military response to the Soviet's blockade, then-president Harry S. Truman instead authorized an airlift operation headed by General Lucius D. Clay. The airlift operation was known as die Luftbrucke or "the airlift" in German. The operation would bring clothing, water, medicine, coal, gasoline, and food to Berlin. In total, about 2.3 million tons of cargo are said to have been supplied in response to the blockade. Supplying supplies created many logistical challenges and risks, such as overworked pilots. Despite this, as illustrated by the Smithsonian Channel's video below, the Soviets finally lifted the blockage in May 1949, though the airlift continued until September 1949, costing over $224 million. [ii]

In a similarly aggressive attempt to sway outcomes in their favor, Russia has continued its blockage of the Black Sea port. The blockade is suffocating Ukraine's grain exports. As a result of Berlin's inability to export grain using the Black Sea port, grain risks rotting unless alternate routes are established. It is believed that Russia's creation of a 'food catastrophe' in Ukraine is likely to starve millions unless the Black Sea ports are reopened. [iii]

As a result, the blockade has caused an increased need for organizations such as the World Food Kitchen, which have stepped in to respond to shortages in Ukraine resulting from Russia's war. In addition to the global food crisis, 45% of Ukrainians face a local food crisis. Because of the war, wheat fields in Ukraine have become minefields meaning farmers, on many occasions, must risk getting blown off of their tractor, similar to Sergei, who experienced this kind of incident on his tractor as detailed by CBS in the following video. [iv]

What now concerns many echoes the International Energy Agency's (IEA) concerns that Russia may take things a step further by cutting gas supplies to Europe entirely. In June of 2014, Russia had no qualms about cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine following a failed European Union mediation during which they could not agree on a gas price. Reviewing Russia's history, they also ceased providing all gas flows to Ukraine for three weeks in January 2009. Previously, in 2006, during another price dispute, gas flows to Ukraine were reduced, but only for a handful of days. [v] [vi] [vii]

In a similar event, reducing the gas flow, Russia recently reduced the flow of natural gas to Ukraine, described in the below video as having the potential to cause an energy crisis.

The latest news stories report that Ukraine has begun its plan to quit Sievierodonetsk, with governor Serhiy Gaidai of Luhansk stating on Ukrainian television, "Remaining in positions smashed to pieces over many months just for the sake of staying there does not make sense." Despite this, according to the video below by the Military Foundation, Ukraine has already deployed harpoon anti-ship to the Black Sea to fight surface ships. [viii]

Further, reviewing Russia's history confirms the plausibility of Russia deciding to cut gas access to Europe completely. Such an act would only further the devastation currently faced by Ukraine. Especially as the war appears to be ending in Sievierodonetsk, the epicenter of the war, many are curious what the next move by either party will be, as millions of Ukrainian lives are alleged to hang in the balance. As a result, questions remain as to whether there will soon be an end to a war crippling such a large portion of the population. [ix]

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Charnell Gilchrist

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References

[i] History.com Editors, U.S. begins Berlin Airlift, (Jun. 24, 2020)

[ii] Id.

[iii] CBS News, Ukraine says Russia creating food "catastrophe" that could starve millions in a bid to reopen Black Sea ports, (Jun. 9, 2022)

[iv] Amanda Macias, Holly Ellyatt, EU looks for natural gas alternative to Russia; fighting rages in Severodonetsk, (Jun. 15, 2022)

[v] Henry Ridgwell, Russia Could Cut Off Gas Supply to Europe, IEA Warns, (Jun. 23, 2022)

[vi] Aljazeera, Russia may cut off gas completely, Europe must act now, IEA warns, (Jun. 22, 2022)

[vii] Andrew Gardner, Russia cuts gas to Ukraine, (Jun. 16, 2014)

[viii] Max Hunder, Tom Balmforth, Ukraine set to quit ruined Sievierodonets as Russians close in, (Jun. 24, 2022)

[ix] Id.

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Currently pursuing a Juris Doctor at Western State College of Law, freelance writer Charnell Gilchrist, a North Carolina native, now spends her free time writing in sunny Aliso Viejo, CA.

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