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Russia and Ukraine battle over underwater mines in the Black Sea


Turkish Navy’s Aydin Class mine hunting vessel TCG Akcay sails into the Bosphorus as it travels to Istanbul, Turkey on March 26, 2022.

Yoruk Isik | Reuters

The world is facing a global food crisis as a result of the war in Ukraine, with soaring prices being felt around the world as a result of Russia’s invasion — and naval mines are a big part of the problem.

Russia and Ukraine are exchanging increasingly frequent insults over mines in Black Sea. Russia uses these to its political advantage, as it continues its blockade on Ukraine’s ports.

Maximilian Hess of the Foreign Policy Research Institute said Thursday that Russia’s blockades were the greatest impediment to exporting grain. He also mentioned the mines.

The real problem is Russia’s determination to use this tool of leverage.

Russia and Ukraine both accuse one another of disrupting shipping lines and preventing grain exports from leaving Ukraine, which has resulted in global food price rises.

Russia was even accused of setting Soviet-era Naval Mines Away in Ukraine, in order to purposefully disrupt shippingGlobal food supply, stating that these mines are effectively “uncontrolled drifting missile ammunition.”

Russia denies this and has, in turn, blamed UkraineUn-moored mines. Moscow blames Ukraine for the food shortage, and says that it will remove the mines.

Ukraine says it won’t do so, and that Russia will be able to invade more areas of the country’s coastline. Odesa, the last functioning port of Ukraine, and one that is also mined, lies further westward on the Black Sea Coast.

On the Odessa beach, Ukraine in April 2022, a sign warns of “Caution: Mines”.

Anastasia Vlasova | Getty Images News | Getty Images

CNBC’s William Alberque spoke out as director for strategy, technology, and arms control for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He said that Ukraine would be “crazy” to not have mined their ports from the approach and that it had resisted the temptation to take them down now.

You can understand the reason why Ukraine is using seamines now. “The Russians have explicitly created the possibility of an amphibious assault against Odesa,” he stated Thursday.

However, strategists are unanimous in their belief that Russia uses the mines for its military and economic advantage.

“The mines are a real barrier to grain exports from Ukraine … and they’re a big problem,” Sidharth Kaushal, a naval power expert with the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told CNBC Thursday, noting that Russia had been strategic about the mines.

The Russians have a good excuse. They can de-mine select ports and reroute trade. And they maintain an effective blockade of Odesa while pretending that it’s all their fault.

Ukraine doesn’t deny that it mines its ports to defend them against an amphibious attack from Russia. This is because one of Russia’s key war objectives was to take control of Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea coast. Odesa, along with those on the Sea of Azov (like Mariupol), were all seized by Russia after an aggressive and persistent siege.

Ripple effects

Russia’s Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov said that Ukraine could de-mine its ports to allow grain exports to resume. This was during a highly publicized visit to Turkey.

He also claimed that Russia would guarantee the safety of Ukrainian ships leaving the ports, and would not use the situation — essentially a de-mined, undefended southern Ukrainian coast — to its advantage.

Following talks with Mevlut Cavusoglu from Turkey, Lavrov declared that these were guarantees from Russia’s president.

An employee at the dockyard watches barley grains being mechanically transferred into a vessel weighing in excess of 40,000 tonnes by a Ukrainian exporter. The ship was loaded to a shipment terminal located in Nikolaev (Sudan Ukraine), July 9, 2013. 

Vincent Mundy | Reuters

Ukraine has been understandably cynical about Russia’s offer, with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba saying that any assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin — who repeatedly said Russia had no plans to invade Ukraine in the months leading up to the Feb. 24 invasion — were hollow.

The United Nations warns about the impact of war in Ukraine on food security, financing, energy and other areas.

The organization estimates that around 1.6 billion people in 94 countries are exposed to at least one dimension of the crisisWith around 1.2 billion people living in countries called “perfect storm”, they are extremely vulnerable to these three elements.

The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres stated Wednesday that the “impact of the conflict in Ukraine on food security and energy is systemic and severe”

He said that we must now act to save lives and ensure the survival of livelihoods for the months and years ahead.