Russia and Ukraine fight over Black Sea mines

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Turkish Navy Aydin-class mine hunting vessel TCG Akcay sails in the Bosphorus en route to the Black Sea in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 26, 2022.

Yoruk Isik | Reuters

The world is facing a global food crisis as a result of the war in Ukraine, with soaring prices felt around the world following the Russian invasion – and naval mines are a big part of the problem.

Russia and Ukraine are trading increasingly frequent barbs over Black Sea mines, which are being used by Russia to its political advantage as its blockade of Ukrainian ports continues.

“The biggest impediment to grain exports is clearly Russian blockades, and that includes mining,” Maximilian Hess, a Central Asia researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told CNBC on Thursday.

“The real problem going forward is that Russia seems determined to use this as leverage.”

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of using mines to disrupt shipping and prevent grain exports from leaving the country, a factor that has contributed to rising global food prices.

Ukraine has even accused Russia of drifting Soviet-era naval mines in order to deliberately disrupt shipping and the world’s food supply, claiming that these mines were in fact “uncontrolled drifting munitions”.

Russia denies this and has, in turn, blamed Ukraine for the unmoored mines. Moscow also blamed international sanctions imposed on the country for the global food crisis and said exports could restart as soon as Ukraine removes mines from its ports.

Ukraine refused to do so, saying it would allow Russia to attack more of its coastline. Odessa, its last major working (and additionally mined) port farther west along the Black Sea coast, is particularly vulnerable.

A sign reads “Caution: mines” on the beach in Odessa, Ukraine, in April 2022.

Anastasia Vlasova | Getty Images News | Getty Images

William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNBC that Ukraine would have been “crazy” not to have mined the approaches to its ports and that his reluctance to remove them now was rational.

“You can totally understand why Ukraine would use sea mines right now. The possibility of an amphibious assault on Odessa was explicitly raised by the Russians,” he said on Thursday.

But strategists agree that Russia is now using mines to its economic and military advantage.

“Mines are a real obstacle to Ukraine’s grain exports…and they’re a big problem,” Sidharth Kaushal, a naval power expert at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told CNBC on Thursday, noting that Russia had been strategic. on mining.

“It is certainly an excuse for the Russians that they are there because they can selectively mine the ports they control, try to redirect trade and maintain a de facto blockade on Odessa while pretending that everything is based on Ukrainians.”

Ukraine does not deny exploiting its own ports in order to protect them from an amphibious attack by Russia, since one of its main war objectives is to take control of Ukrainian ports along the coast of the black Sea. These include Odessa and those along the Sea of ​​Azov, such as Mariupol, which Russia seized after a fierce and aggressive siege.

Training effects

During a high-profile visit to Turkey this week (which, like Ukraine and Russia, also encircles the Black Sea), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that if Ukraine clears its ports, exports of cereals could resume.

He also claimed that Russia would guarantee the safety of Ukrainian ships leaving ports and would not use the situation – essentially a cleared and undefended southern coast of Ukraine – to its advantage.

“These are guarantees from the Russian president,” Lavrov said after talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

A shipyard worker watches barley grain being mechanically poured into a 40,000 ton vessel at the shipping terminal of a Ukrainian agricultural exporter in the southern Ukrainian town of Nikolaev July 9, 2013 .

Vincent Mundy | Reuters

Ukraine has been understandably cynical about Russia’s offer, with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba saying all the assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin – who has repeatedly said Russia has no intention of to invade Ukraine in the months leading up to the February 24 invasion – were futile.

In the meantime, the United Nations continues to warn of the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine, which it says has generated a severe cost-of-living crisis and impacted food security, l energy and finance.

The organization estimates that around 1.6 billion people in 94 countries are exposed to at least one dimension of the crisis, of which around 1.2 billion live in “perfectly stormy” countries severely vulnerable to all three factors.

“The impact of the war in Ukraine on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe and accelerating,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.

We must act now, he added, “to save lives and livelihoods in the months and years to come”.

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