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Russia warns of targeting ships to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports

Russian President Vladimir Putin. AFP/File 

In a move that has sent shockwaves through the global food market, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stern warning, declaring that ships sailing to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports will be perceived as potential military targets. 

The declaration comes days after Russia’s withdrawal from a crucial safe-passage deal, which facilitated the export of grain from Ukraine, raising concerns about the already precarious state of global food supplies.

“Everyone is affected by Russian terror,” emphasised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his daily address to the nation, reflecting the gravity of the situation. The tension escalated when Russia launched a series of strikes around the southern Ukrainian port of Odesa, with President Zelensky accusing Russia of deliberately targeting grain export infrastructure, threatening vulnerable countries that rely on Ukrainian grain.

The Black Sea region plays a vital role in the grain trade, with both Ukraine and Russia being top grain exporters. The exit of Russia from the United Nations and Turkey-brokered pact, which provided safe passage for cargo ships from the war zone, has raised alarms about food insecurity worldwide. The absence of this deal led to a disruption in the sea route used to export Ukrainian grain to North Africa and the Middle East, leading to a surge in wheat futures on the European stock exchange.

The International Monetary Fund expressed concerns that Russia’s departure from the pact could worsen global food insecurity, leading to an increase in food prices, especially in impoverished countries. The development poses a significant threat to regions that heavily rely on imported grain, such as Afghanistan, Sudan, and Yemen.

The Russian Defence Ministry justified its decision, saying that all vessels sailing to Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea will be regarded as potential carriers of military cargo. This has left the international shipping community on edge, with fears of escalating conflict in the region.

“We believe that this is a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks,” expressed White House National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge, pointing to concerns about the potential implications of Russia’s actions.

While Ukraine remains steadfast in its commitment to continue grain exports despite the end of the deal, it has called on other countries to assist in safeguarding the safe passage of cargo ships. “A UN mandate should be added here to create a military patrol that would include countries in contact with the region, for example Turkey, Bulgaria, or any others,” urged Ukraine’s presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been ongoing in areas of eastern and southern Ukraine, with the Ukrainian army pushing forward with a counteroffensive to reclaim territory occupied by Russian forces. The fighting has centred around the northeastern region of Kharkiv and the strategically important Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.

As tensions continue to escalate and uncertainty looms over the safety of shipping routes to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, the international community is closely monitoring the situation. The implications of Putin’s threat to target ships sailing to Ukrainian ports could have far-reaching consequences for global food security, necessitating a concerted effort to find diplomatic solutions and ensure the safe passage of essential commodities.

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