Russia declares parts of Black Sea ‘unsafe’, Ukraine-bound ships ‘military carriers’

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Russia will consider all vessels traveling on the Black Sea heading to Ukrainian ports as “potential military cargo carriers” starting from Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday.

The ministry declared in a statement on Telegram that a number of areas in the northwestern and southeastern parts of the international waters of the Black Sea as “temporarily dangerous for navigation,” adding that the flag countries of ships traveling to Ukrainian ports will be considered parties to the conflict on Kyiv’s side.

The statement said: “In connection with the cessation of the functioning of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and the сlosing of the maritime humanitarian corridor, from 00.00 Moscow time on 20 July 2023, all vessels sailing in the waters of the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be regarded as potential carriers of military cargo. Accordingly, the countries of such vessels will be considered to be involved in the Ukrainian conflict on the side of the Kyiv regime. In addition, a number of sea areas in the north-western and south-eastern parts of the international waters of the Black Sea have been declared temporarily dangerous for navigation. Corresponding information warnings on the withdrawal of safety guarantees to mariners have been issued in accordance with the established procedure.”

This comes as Ukraine said on Wednesday Russia damaged grain export infrastructure in overnight strikes focused on two of its Black Sea ports. The Russian attack on Odesa for the second consecutive night came after Moscow quit on Monday the Black Sea Grain initiative – a year-old deal allowing the safe passage of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.

The declaration signifies a heightened level of aggression by Russia. By considering all such vessels as potential military cargo carriers, Russia is indicating its suspicion and intention to closely scrutinize and potentially interfere with their activities. By designating specific areas of the Black Sea as temporarily dangerous for navigation, Russia is asserting control over those regions and asserting its authority to monitor and potentially disrupt maritime traffic. This move effectively establishes a zone where vessels traveling to Ukrainian ports may face increased risks and encounters with Russian forces.

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The implication of a higher likelihood of interception or interference by Russian forces suggests that Russia is actively seeking to restrict or control maritime access to Ukrainian ports. This could involve measures such as increased naval patrols, inspections, or even the possibility of boarding or seizing vessels under the pretext of inspecting for potential military cargo.

This aggressive posture and tightening control over the Black Sea have several implications. Firstly, it creates a more hostile environment for vessels traveling to Ukrainian ports, potentially deterring or disrupting international trade and maritime activities in the region. Furthermore, this move by Russia raises concerns for maritime security and the freedom of navigation in the Black Sea. It challenges the norms and principles of international maritime law, which ensure the rights of vessels to navigate freely in international waters without unnecessary interference.

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