For several days, Russia has reinforced its strikes on Ukrainian targets in the Black Sea. This escalation, which stems from Moscow’s withdrawal from the grain agreement, poses risks to merchant ships in the area.
The Black Sea is more than ever a major issue in the war in Ukraine, after the end of the grain agreement from which Russia withdrew on Monday July 17. For the fourth consecutive night, between Thursday July 20 and Friday July 21, the Russian army again carried out a series of strikes on grain terminals in the Odessa region (south-west Ukraine). The Russian Ministry of Defense claims that ships in its fleet sent anti-ship cruise missiles and destroyed “a target boat” in the combat training area, northwest of the Black Sea.
>> Agreement on the export of cereals: is Moscow’s withdrawal really a surprise?
Moscow is stepping up attacks with cruise missiles and drones, particularly on the port of Odessa, the main exit port for Ukrainian ships carrying grain. These strikes have already destroyed more than 60,000 tons of cereals, and on the night of July 20 to 21, “the enemy reduced to ashes 100 tons of cultivated peas and 20 tons of barley”said the local governor, Oleg Kiper, who specifies that these are “grain silos of a local agricultural enterprise” who were affected. Moscow replies that its strikes only target military sites.
Russia’s withdrawal from the deal raises fears of a global food crisis
These strikes are presented by Moscow as retaliatory measures after the attack on the Crimean bridge which occurred on July 17 and attributed to Ukraine. The Kremlin, which withdrew from the grain agreement in the process, also denounced obstacles to trade in its own fertilizers and agricultural products. Concluded last year, this agreement has enabled Ukraine to export 33 million tonnes of cereals in one year to 45 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa thanks to protected maritime corridors. The Russian withdrawal raises fears today of a major food crisis but above all a major threat to security in this region.
The Kremlin press release published on July 20 is, to say the least, explicit.
“All ships going to Ukraine via the Black Sea will be considered as potential military ships [comprenez des cibles] and the countries whose flag they fly as parties to the conflict”.The Kremlin, July 20
Several ships flying the flag of Liberia, Belize or Panama are currently blocked in Ukrainian ports. For its part, Kiev has made it known that ships heading for ports controlled by Moscow (in particular that of Sevastopol, in Crimea) would be considered as potential carriers of military equipment with all the associated risks.
The United States is alarmed: the White House says that Russia would consider attacking merchant ships (civilians therefore) in the Black Sea and then accuse Ukraine of being responsible. This is indeed what could happen: either a ship or a civilian boat runs over a mine, or it is taken to task by the Russian navy with, in both cases, a risk of conflagration. All the ingredients are there for the situation to ignite at the slightest incident. Finally, let us remember that NATO has bases in this sensitive region, notably in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.