Ukraine Grain Ships Defy Russian Threats

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  • Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, said Russia’s navy would, if necessary, conduct inspections of ships that did get its permission to depart Ukraine
  • Turkey, working with the U.N., then brokered a deal in which Russia and Ukraine agreed to allow shipments from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports

Russia threatened to stop vessels carrying grain from Ukraine, two days after Moscow said it would abandon an agreement that guaranteed the safety of those exports and as ships continued to make the voyages Monday anyway, reports WSJ.

The threat

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, said Russia’s navy would, if necessary, conduct inspections of ships that did get its permission to depart Ukraine. The Russian Ministry of Defense said any movement of ships along a previously designated grain corridor was unacceptable, citing security concerns.

The threat came as merchant ships continued to pull in and out of Ukraine’s grain-exporting ports along the Black Sea, just days after Russia suspended its participation in a U.N.-brokered deal to allow Ukrainian grain exports. Twelve ships carrying grain departed from Ukrainian ports on Monday, the country’s infrastructure minister said. Four ships were set to transit toward Ukraine to collect grain.

The Russian threat injects new uncertainty—including the possibility of direct military intervention—in what had until recently become a relatively smooth operation that had helped Ukraine restore grain exports to near-prewar levels. Shipments stopped in the weeks immediately after Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine. Grain prices soared on the prospect of shipments being stuck in Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest grain exporters.

A deal to allow shipments

Turkey, working with the U.N., then brokered a deal in which Russia and Ukraine agreed to allow shipments from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports. The deal helped stabilize global prices of wheat and corn at a time when rising food costs have pushed tens of millions of people toward famine, according to the U.N.

Russia over the weekend suspended its participation in the deal, saying the move was in response to a Ukrainian attack on Russian naval forces in occupied Crimea. Grain markets rose Monday, but Turkish, Ukrainian and U.N. officials vowed to keep the ships moving.

Maritime law experts said that any attempt by Russia to stop ships in international waters would violate international law, which guarantees freedom of navigation. Russian efforts to intercept civilian ships would also violate the Montreux Convention, a 1936 treaty that governs access to the Black Sea, analysts said.

“It is totally illegal,” said Yoruk Isik, the head of Bosphorus Observer, a consulting firm monitoring activity in the Turkish straits and Black Sea. “Freedom of navigation is the main pillar of the law of the seas around the world.”

Considerable naval assets

Russia still has considerable naval assets in the region despite months of Ukrainian drone and missile attacks. One such aerial attack sank the flagship of the Kremlin’s Black Sea fleet.

Russia has at least four diesel-powered submarines, two frigates armed with rockets, torpedoes and cruise missiles, 10 large amphibious ships, as well as smaller patrol ships belonging to both the Russian navy and coast guard.

A U.N.- and Turkish-designated shipping corridor takes grain ships from Ukraine’s territorial waters south through international waters toward the Bosporus, which runs through Istanbul. Ukraine’s own waters are well protected by the country’s Harpoon and Neptune antiship missiles, which have largely pushed Russian ships away from Ukraine’s shores, military analysts say.

Ismini Palla, a spokeswoman for the U.N. at the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, which monitors the deal, said that departing and incoming ships began moving into the corridor on Monday morning. Ship-tracking data showed ships moving along the designated sea lane.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said the four incoming ships entered the Black Sea corridor after being inspected by officials from Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N. Russian officials would ordinarily participate in the inspections, which take place when the ships enter and leave the Bosporus. Under the agreement, Russian military officers are also supposed to work with counterparts at the U.N. and Turkey to help the ships avoid mines and other hazards.

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Source: WSJ

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