July 24, 2023
BEIJING – Russia warned that any ships traveling to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports from Thursday will be seen as possibly carrying military cargoes after Ukraine said it was setting up a temporary shipping route to try and continue its grain exports.
The moves by both countries on Wednesday came just days after Russia quit a grain deal — brokered by the United Nations and Turkiye — that allowed the safe passage of Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain for the past year.
Ukraine claimed it wanted to try and continue its Black Sea grain shipments and told the UN shipping agency International Maritime Organization that it had “decided to establish on a temporary basis a recommended maritime route”.
But Russia’s Defense Ministry then said it would deem all ships traveling to Ukraine to be potentially carrying military cargo and “the flag countries of such ships will be considered parties to the Ukrainian conflict”.
The Defense Ministry did not say what actions it might take but announced in a statement on Telegram that the move would start at midnight Moscow time.
Russia also declared the southeastern and northwestern parts of the Black Sea’s international waters to be temporarily unsafe for navigation, the ministry said, without giving details about parts of the sea that would be affected.
“It underscores that we’re trying to work and continue to work in what is effectively a war zone,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday when asked about the Russian warning.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin met Turkish Ambassador to Russia Mehmet Samsar on Wednesday and explained why the grain deal was terminated.
The Russian side once again stressed that the lack of progress in the implementation of the Russia-UN memorandum was one of the key reasons behind the principled decision to terminate the Black Sea Initiative on exporting Ukrainian food after its expiration on July 17, the Russian foreign ministry said.
During a meeting with government officials on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is ready to return to the grain deal immediately if all previously agreed-upon conditions for its participation in the initiative are met and the arrangement’s “original humanitarian essence” is restored.
Putin said Western countries entirely twisted the essence of the grain deal, resulting in profits for European companies and losses for Russian businesses.
“The grain deal turned into direct losses and losses for Russian agricultural producers, for enterprises producing fertilizers,” Putin said. “Because of a 30-40 percent discount on Russian grain on global markets, the losses of Russian farmers amounted to $1.2 billion.”
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign spokeswoman Mao Ning said in a daily briefing: “We hope that parties concerned will properly resolve international food security issues through dialogue and consultation.”
China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is consistent and clear-cut and “we will continue to play a constructive role in facilitating the political settlement of the crisis”, Mao said.
Separately, a video released on Wednesday appears to show Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin for the first time, since he led an attempted mutiny last month. He was seen telling his troops they would spend some time in Belarus training its military before going to Africa.