Ukraine has said any ships bound for Russian ports could be military targets, a response to a threat from Moscow that raises the risk of war on world food markets.
Since Moscow suspended the Black Sea agreement that allowed Ukraine to export part of its grain crops, Russia has attacked Ukrainian grain storage facilities and warned that all ships bound for Ukrainian ports will be treated as potential carriers of military supplies.
Wheat prices surged on Wednesday, and initially jumped again when Kyiv’s Defense Ministry said any ships bound for Russian ports and Ukrainian areas occupied by Kremlin troops were also legitimate targets. They give up profits to sell small change.
Russia Issues Warning to Any Ships Traveling to Ukraine’s Black Sea Ports
The growing threat to vital trade in the Black Sea raises the risk of turmoil in global markets for everything from oil and food staples to fertilizers. Russia’s attack on its neighbor has severely disrupted exports from Ukraine, a major producer of grains and vegetable oil.
Ukraine has previously attacked Russian ships in the Black Sea, sinking the flagship cruiser Moskva with a Neptune anti-ship missile after the Russian invasion.
A landing ship was also sunk and another damaged in the port of Berdyansk in March 2022, and Ukrainian rockets reached Russia’s main supply line to Crimea, the Kerch Strait bridge.
“The fate of the cruiser Moskva proves that the defense forces of Ukraine have the means necessary to counter Russian aggression at sea,” the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine said.
The Black Sea is also home to a major Russian oil terminal, with more than half a million barrels a day of crude flowing through Novorossiysk, which is also a key port for fertilizer, grain and coal. Oil prices were little changed, suggesting the market is skeptical about the possibility of a disruption.
Russia also has several export terminals for refined oil products near Taman, across eastern Crimea. Tanker tracking data monitored by Bloomberg shows 28 oil tankers, mostly smaller product carriers, in the vicinity.
Alexander Kulikov, Chief Executive Officer of St-Petersburg based chartering company Sea Lines Ltd., said that the Novorossiysk port was working as usual on Thursday. Passage through the Kerch strait has been closed since the explosion of the bridge in Crimea, and it is unclear when it will be reopened, he said. He had two ships waiting to pass through the Kerch strait from the south side, he said. A spokesman for the Novorossiysk port did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It was not immediately clear how realistic the Ukrainian threat was. The Russian Ministry of Defense also did not specify what to do with any ships that try to enter Ukrainian ports.
On the other hand, Russia’s defense capabilities in the northern Black Sea and Sea of Azov are enormous. They include a fleet of warships, including missile cruisers and radars designed to provide an umbrella of protection against attack from the air, as well as the large Crimean military base in Sevastopol.
Ukraine’s longest range missiles are the Harpoons and the UK-supplied Storm Shadows. Both have the highest ranges well below Novorossiysk, as well as its approaches. That would complicate any Ukrainian efforts to attack tankers in the area.
Ukraine has also developed a small number of less powerful long range aerial drones that may have been used in the largely symbolic attack on Moscow, in May.
Lacking a deployable navy, Kyiv uses surface-water drones in attacks on Russian naval vessels, most of which are thwarted by artillery fire. Only naval escorts would provide such defenses for Russian merchant ships.
“They’ve shown in many ways that they can pose a threat to Russian shipping in ways that surprise the Russians, so they can,” said Nick Childs, senior fellow on naval forces and maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank. “The question is whether this is part of a rhetorical slanging match, to force others to return the grain deal, as we have seen in the past.”
The Russians may also believe, according to Childs, that the combination of overnight attacks on Ukrainian ports and grain terminals, along with threats to attack commercial shipping is enough to create a de facto blockade, without having to sink any ships.
Attacks on loaded oil tankers also carry the risk of environmental disaster, which may trigger an unwanted reaction from the international community.
-With help from Áine Quinn, Alaric Nightingale, Marc Champion and Julian Lee.
Photo: Black Sea Ships. Photo credit: Daniel Mihailesu/Getty Images
Copyright 2023 Bloomberg.
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