FILE – In this handout posted by Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev’s Telegram channel on Wednesday, September 13, 2023, Razvozhaev speaks on a cell phone as smoke and flames pour from a burning Sevastopol shipyard on the Crimea rising. On Friday, September 22, 2023, Ukraine carried out a powerful missile attack on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, a Russian official said. (Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev’s Telegram channel via AP, file)
- Ukraine has increased its attacks on the Russian Black Sea Fleet in recent weeks.
- The tensions come two months after Russia pulled out of a deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain.
- But Ukraine has recently successfully established a new export route in the Black Sea.
The recent wave of devastating Ukrainian attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet may have as much to do with Ukraine’s economic prospects as its military tactics.
Ukraine has managed to claim parts of the disputed Black Sea after stepping up attacks on the Russian naval fleet in recent weeks. The attacks have caused so much damage to Russian equipment and infrastructure on the occupied Crimean peninsula that British intelligence said this week that Moscow’s fleet was likely to lose the ability to defend itself.
The heightened tensions in the Black Sea came two months after Russia withdrew from a United Nations-brokered initiative that allowed Ukraine to continue exporting tens of millions of tons of grain during the war.
In July, Russia announced it was lifting maritime security guarantees in the northwestern Black Sea, sent additional ships to patrol the area and fired warning shots at a freighter last month as part of increasingly tense efforts to restrict Ukraine’s economic exports To block.
“Key to the current spate of attacks on the Black Sea Fleet is the grain issue — and exports more broadly —,” says Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of Soviet Union and U.S.-Soviet relations, Insider said.
Ukraine supplies about 10% of global wheat exports and about half of the world’s sunflower oil, earning it the nickname “Europe’s breadbasket.” The UN agreement, negotiated in July 2022, was an attempt to prevent catastrophic food shortages around the globe following the Russian invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine’s grain exports fell more than 50% in September compared to this time last year, data from the country’s agriculture ministry showed earlier this month, underscoring the need for access to Black Sea ports for Ukraine’s exports.
“If Ukraine cannot obtain grain, its fiscal problems will be even more severe,” Miles said.
However, in recent weeks the country has established a new shipping corridor in the Black Sea that avoids Russian port blockades, the Ukrainian Navy said this week. The country announced that seven cargo ships had already successfully sailed on the new route.
The New York Times this week quoted experts and analysts who said the success of the new corridor may be due to Ukraine’s newfound ability to target Russian warships and deter them from entering Ukrainian waters, as well as the efforts of the country to obstruct Russia’s intelligence operations in the Black Sea.
The new route takes Ukrainian ships through a sea mine-protected area along the country’s coast, the outlet reported. Once the ships leave Ukrainian waters, they remain near the coasts of NATO countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey for additional protection.
Ukrainian forces have stepped up attacks on the Russian fleet in connection with the new corridor to deter Russia from blocking the route, The Times reported, citing experts.
Ukraine’s economic interest in the Black Sea is an additional layer to the already ongoing war in the region. Ukraine has long had reason to target Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which plays a key role in conducting long-range missile strikes.
Retaking Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, is a key goal for Ukrainian defense officials. Ukraine recently launched missile attacks on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the city of Sevastopol.
“Of course retaking Crimea is the ultimate end goal of the Ukrainian leadership, they have made that clear, but I think in the short term they will try to get the Russians to change their risk calculation when it comes to access to block Ukrainian ports and allow them to reopen,” Miles said.
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