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Black Sea is becoming more and more a war zone: ‘Everything to win’

A drone attack on a Russian ship in Novorossiysk, August 4

NOS news

  • Paul Houthuis

    online editor

  • Paul Houthuis

    online editor

Whether it concerns an oil tanker, a cargo ship or a civilian ship: now the warring parties consider all of them as “legitimate military targets” in the Russian and Ukrainian part of the Black Sea. The battle for the important sea route moved at high speed in less than a month.

Late last week, Ukrainian maritime kamikaze drones hit a Russian oil tanker, for the preceding in the war. “Anything Russia moves across the Black Sea is a legitimate military target,” an adviser to President Zelensky said afterward. A Russian naval base in Novorossiysk, far from the war zone, was also attacked by drones. And today a Russian military ship unloaded warning shots towards a cargo ship that sailed under the flag of the Palau archipelago.

Ukraine distributed the following images of the attack on the oil:

Attack on Russian tanker filmed by naval drone

All this was in response to Russian air attacks on Ukrainian ports. Grain storage sites and civilian infrastructure were destroyed, according to authorities. A Russian drone strike hit Izmajil, a port city on the Danube near the border with NATO member Romania. A Romanian ship was also damaged.

The grain deal temporarily caused a sort of ceasefire on the Black Sea, said defense expert and retired general Mart de Kruif. But since Russia withdrew a month ago, the situation has escalated. “Formally it was already a war zone, but now the Black Sea has also become operational. This shows that it will be an all-out war. All resources are used to win.”

Risk of escalation

The fact that there are three NATO countries on the Black Sea makes the latest developments risky, according to De Kruif. “It only takes one deviation or miscalculation and you’re in trouble. That Russia did this attack near Romania was remarkable, because it’s close to Article 5.” This article in the NATO charter states that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all members.

This map shows the attacks in the past period in the Black Sea, and which countries are NATO members or NATO partners (light blue):

The sea route is essential for both Russia and Ukraine. Last month, for example, Russia exported nearly 59 million barrels of crude oil through the port of Novorossiysk, a third of Russia’s total exports, according to news site Politico. And this is just one of the Russian ports in the region that Ukraine has declared a target.

Increase the cost of insurance

It is a blow to the Kremlin that Russian ships, for example, cannot safely transport oil, an important source of income for the war chest, across the Black Sea. Patrick Bolder, a former air force officer affiliated with the Hague Center for Strategic Studies, said: “The mere threat of a possible drone attack is enough.” According to him, it will lead to sky-high insurance prices and stagnation of imports and exports.

The same dynamics may also affect cargo shipping in the northwest Black Sea region. “There is also a chance that trade will come under pressure for countries that do not participate,” says Bolder.

Contract seeds

Food prices rose worldwide last year, in part due to the shutdown of Ukrainian grain trade across the Black Sea. Food shortages appeared particularly in the less prosperous countries. The grain agreement made transportation possible again. But since last month, Ukrainian ships full of grain could not leave the Black Sea ports.

Russia thinks so the agreement of the contract is not fulfilled and he came out. Shortly after, he began a series of bombing attacks on Ukrainian ports. Any ship approaching Ukrainian waters since Moscow is considered a threat because it may have weapons on board.

humanitarian corridor ‘blufpoker’

Despite this threat, Ukraine unilaterally announced a humanitarian corridor on Thursday. Kyiv said dozens of cargo ships docked at Black Sea ports will be given free passage.

It is not clear whether the initiative will succeed. Reuters news agency reported, based on sources, that the corridor was not used in the first two days after the announcement. nonetheless, it was a striking announcement, experts say.

“If Ukraine puts it this way, you wonder how they will implement it. Ukraine does not have a significant fleet anymore and Russia has put sea mines in front of the entrance to the ports,” says Bolder. He thinks Kyiv is playing “a little bluff poker”.

“I can’t imagine Russia agreeing to it,” said De Kruif. He sees the move as part of a diplomatic game of chess. “Ukraine wants to show: we are here positive sir and Russia wicked.”

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