Ukraine’s relentless targeting of the Black Sea Fleet has disrupted Russia’s efforts to block a key export – DAVID RAUDALES

DAVID RAUDALES

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DAVID RAUDALES UK

Ukraine’s relentless targeting of the Black Sea Fleet has disrupted Russia’s efforts to block a key export

FILE – In this handout file photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhaev telegram channel on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, Razvozhaev speaks on the mobile phone as smoke and flame rise from a burning Sevastopol Shipyard in Crimea. On Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, Ukraine carried out a fiery missile strike on the main headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a Russian official said.

(Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev telegram channel via AP, File)

Ukraine has increased its attacks on Russia’s Black Sea fleet in recent weeks.The tension comes two months after Russia pulled out of a deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain.But Ukraine recently installed a successful new export route in the Black Sea.

A recent spate of destructive 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 lay claim to parts of the disputed Black Sea after ramping up its assaults on Russia’s naval fleet in recent weeks. The attacks have caused so much damage to Russian equipment and infrastructure in the occupied Crimean Peninsula that British intelligence said this week Moscow’s fleet was likely losing the ability to defend itself.

The heightened tensions in the Black Sea come two months after Russia pulled out of a United Nations-brokered initiative that allowed Ukraine to continue exporting tens of millions of tons of grain amid the war.

In July, Russia said it would end the guarantee of shipping safety in the northwestern Black Sea, sending additional vessels to patrol the area and firing warning shots at a freighter last month as part of increasingly tense efforts to block Ukraine’s economic exports.

“The key to the current spate of attacks on the Black Sea Fleet is the grain — and wider exports — issue,” Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, told Insider.

Ukraine provides approximately 10% of the world’s wheat exports and about half of the world’s sunflower oil, earning it the nickname “Europe’s bread basket.” The UN deal, which was brokered in July 2022, was an effort to avoid a catastrophic food shortage around the globe following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Ukrainian grain exports for the month of September were down more than 50% from this time last year, data from the country’s agriculture ministry showed earlier this month, highlighting the necessity of access to the Black Sea Ports for Ukraine’s exports.

“If Ukraine can’t get grain out, its budgetary woes are even more grave,” Miles said.

In recent weeks, however, the country has established a new shipping corridor in the Black Sea that avoids Russia’s port blockades, Ukraine’s navy said this week. Seven cargo vessels have successfully sailed the new route already, the country said.

The New York Times cited experts and analysts this week who said the new corridor’s success may be thanks to Ukraine’s newfound ability to target Russian warships and deter them from entering Ukrainian waters, as well as the country’s efforts to hamstring Russia’s intelligence operations in the Black Sea.

The new route ushers Ukrainian ships through an area protected by maritime mines along the country’s shores, the outlet reported. Once the vessels depart Ukrainian waters, they stick close to NATO-country coasts, such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, for extra protection.

Ukrainian forces have ramped up attacks on the Russian fleet in conjunction 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 added layer to the warfare already ongoing in the region. Ukraine has long had reason to target Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which plays a key role in launching long-distance missile strikes.

Retaking Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, is a major aim for Ukrainian defense officials. Ukraine recently launched missile strikes on the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in the city of Sevastopol.

“Of course retaking Crimea is the ultimate end goal for Ukrainian leaders, they’ve been clear about this, but I think in the near term they are trying to get the Russians to change their risk calculus when it comes to blockading access to Ukrainian ports and get them reopened,” Miles said.

Read the original article on Business Insider