Russia has warned that from today ships travelling to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports will be considered potential military targets, as Kyiv said it would set up a temporary shipping route to continue grain exports following Moscow’s withdrawal from a deal that permitted food shipments from Ukraine’s ports.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday that it would deem all ships travelling to Ukraine to be potentially carrying military cargo on behalf of Kyiv and “the flag countries of such ships will be considered parties to the Ukrainian conflict”.
Ukraine said on Wednesday it was establishing a temporary shipping route via Romania in the wake of the end of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
“Its goal is to facilitate the unblocking of international shipping in the northwestern part of the Black Sea,” Vasyl Shkurakov, Ukraine’s acting minister for communities, territories and infrastructure development, said in a letter to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Ukraine added in the letter to the IMO that it had created a “mechanism” to provide “guarantees of compensation for damage” to charterers, ship operators and owners of vessels “caused as a result of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation.” Global insurers, however, are very wary of providing any coverage to ships heading to this dangerous part of the world.
On the cancellation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, analysts at brokers Arrow suggested in a note to clients yesterday: “The Ukrainian grain trade is a small chunk of the overall dry bulk demand picture, however its loss will likely be felt more acutely for the Panamax segment. Global combined corn and wheat exports should rise next year as other exporters push higher, offsetting any loss from Ukraine. Depending on how the logistics networks develop, Romania may be able to further increase its handling of Ukrainian cargoes, providing a deep-sea route to market.”
Romania has been handling about a third of Ukraine’s grain exports since the war started, with Arrow predicting many more cargoes will head through this export avenue going forward.
The aggressive announcement from Moscow aimed at commercial shipping came as a senior White House official said that Russia was considering attacking civilian ships on the Black Sea and then putting the blame on Ukrainian forces.
“Our information indicates that Russia laid additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports,” White House National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said, adding: “We believe that this is a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks.”
Russia said yesterday the United Nations had three months to implement the terms of a memorandum that would facilitate Russian agricultural exports if it wanted Moscow to resume talks about allowing Ukrainian grain exports to restart.
The Russian military, meanwhile, has this week targeted Odesa, Ukraine’s top port, on a scale not seen since the early days of the war 17 months ago.
Port facilities with a grain terminal and a cooking oil terminal have been hit, the Ukrainian military said, as well as storage tanks and ship loading facilities.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the attacks on Odesa had destroyed approximately 60,000 tonnes of grain, and Moscow was attacking the port deliberately after withdrawing from the grain export deal.
“Russian terrorists are absolutely deliberately targeting the grain agreement infrastructure, and every Russian missile is a blow not only to Ukraine but to everyone in the world who aspires to a normal and safe life,” he wrote on Telegram.
“The grain infrastructure of international and Ukrainian traders and carriers Kernel, Viterra, CMA CGM Group was damaged. Tanks and berths of the Odesa port were also damaged,” a government report on the latest attacks on Odesa stated.
The nearby port of Chornomorsk has also come under attack this week.
While there are no commercial ships willing to call at Ukrainian seaports this week, elsewhere on the Black Sea queues are forming, most notably at the Kerch Strait linking with the Azov Sea where Russia has banned all transits for three days and counting following an attack on a bridge to Crimea.