Ukraine responds to Russia with similar stance on Black Sea vessels

20 Jul 2023 | Masha Belikova

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence has responded to a statement from the Russian Defence Ministry Wednesday, announcing it would take the same stance on ships moving towards Russian ports in the Black Sea as Russia said it would take on those headed to Ukraine.

In a note published Thursday afternoon, the Ukrainian ministry said that from midnight local time on July 21, all vessels in the Black Sea heading to Russia and to Ukrainian ports in territories currently occupied by Russia would be treated as potentially carrying military cargo, with all the associated risks.

In addition, the note said navigation in the northeastern part of the Black Sea and the Kerch-Yenikal Strait of Ukraine would be prohibited from 0500 local time on July 20, 2023, as it was considered dangerous.

“By openly threatening civilian ships transporting food from Ukrainian ports, launching missile attacks and drone attacks on civilian infrastructure in peaceful cities, deliberately creating a military threat on trade routes, the Kremlin has turned the Black Sea into a danger zone,” the note said.

“The responsibility for all risks lies entirely with the Russian leadership,” it added.

The statement follows a third night of Russian attacks on Odesa, where Ukraine’s main deep sea ports are located, as well as Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative on Monday.

It appears to be a direct retaliation to Russia’s statement Wednesday that all vessels in the Black Sea moving towards Ukrainian ports would be considered as carrying military cargoes and thus targets, which led to a spike in worldwide wheat futures and concerns in the market as to whether this meant ships going into Danube ports would also potentially be in danger.

The grain corridor deal, signed between Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Nations in July 2022, has facilitated the export of almost 33 million mt of agricultural products from Ukraine to global markets, but it has become increasingly less effective in the last months as Russian authorities were accused of deliberately slowing down the rate of inspections of in- and outbound vessels.