International organizations confirm that it is Russia, and not Ukraine, that is blocking some 90 ships carrying foodstuffs in the Black Sea. There have also been at least three recorded cases of Russia bombing merchant ships carrying goods from Black Sea ports.
Russian media continue to accuse Ukraine of being “aggressive” not only towards Russia, but also towards the entire civilized world. Since February 24, 2022, state media have actively promoted the claim that Ukrainian authorities are allegedly “forcibly detaining” “some 70 foreign merchant ships” in ports to “blackmail the whole world”. Russian media also claim that Ukraine has “deliberately mined” the Black Sea to “create Russophobe provocations”.
Russian media have not abandoned their attempts to blame Ukraine for the bloody war unleashed by Russian troops on Ukrainian territory. In mid-March, Kremlin media began actively disseminating reports that Ukraine was “setting dangerous precedents” in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, allegedly by mining sections of the Black Sea. On March 26 and 28, Turkey reported it had discovered and deactivated two “old-style” sea mines that were drifting towards the Turkish and Bulgarian coasts.
Ukraine categorically denied all Russian accusations. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry stressed that the drifting mines found in the Black Sea were exactly the mines that Russia stole from Ukrainian naval bases when it occupied Sevastopol in 2014.
“It has been established that these are naval mines that are not registered with the Ukrainian Navy as of the beginning of 2022. These mines were seized by the Russian Armed Forces in 2014 during Russia’s military invasion and occupation of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol.By using naval mines from Ukrainian military bases seized in 2014, Russia is deliberately resorting to provocations aimed at discrediting Ukraine in front of its international partners,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The presence of mines in the Black Sea poses a serious risk to maritime activities, the UK Ministry of Defense has said. On April 3, the ministry said that Russia continues to blockade the Ukrainian coast in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The British Ministry of Defense also said that while the origin of the mines remained unclear, “their presence is almost certainly due to Russian naval activity in the area and demonstrates how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is affecting neutral and civilian interests”.
Russia’s second claim, that Ukraine “detains” and “blocks” dozens of foreign civilian vessels in its ports, is simply disinformation. According to the International Maritime Organization (an organization within the UN structure), as of March 30 , there are 86 reported merchant ships and about 1,000 seafarers blocked in Ukrainian ports and waters because of the Russian war. Also earlier, the International Maritime Organization said that it was Russia, not Ukraine, that was attacking commercial vessels, merchant ships and search and rescue ships in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.
On March 29 US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman confirmed that Russia had attacked civilian foreign ships in the Black Sea. According to Sherman, Russia bombed at least three civilian ships carrying goods from Black Sea ports, including one chartered by an agricultural company. Sherman also added that the Russian navy was blocking access to Ukrainian ports, effectively cutting off grain exports. Sherman stressed that as a result Russia’s military aggression, there are now severe food shortages not only in Ukraine, but also worldwide.
The Black Sea is the main trade route for transporting grain, oil and oil products. Merchant ships access the Mediterranean Sea and the world’s oceans through the Bosphorus Strait. The sea route is strategic for Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey and some European countries. Russia uses it as one of the levers of pressure on Ukraine’s international partners.
Moscow actively began spreading disinformation that Ukraine is a maritime “terrorist” – even before the February 24 full-scale invasion of the country. On February 18, Russian media claimed that international insurance companies had allegedly recognized Ukraine as a “pirate country”, although it was referring specifically to Russian aggression in the Black and Azov seas. StopFake journalists examined and refuted this thesis in the article “Fake: Ukraine is accused of piracy, Black and Azov Seas are closed“.