Russia’s Terror Against Ukraine’s Black Sea Ports and the Black Sea Security

July 30, 2023
Russia has launched an attack on the Black Sea ports of Odesa Oblast, which ensured the Grain Deal. 26 objects of port infrastructure were damaged.
Photo credit: Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine/Facebook

But what is Russia’s goal and what consequences will their actions hold for the security of the Black Sea? UkraineWorld spoke with Dr. Hanna Shelest, Director of Security Programmes at the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”.

Impact of Russian airstrikes

Russia’s primary targets in Ukraine’s south were port infrastructure and facilities. Russia pursues two major objectives. The first is to deprive Ukraine of the possibility to export agricultural products by sea even if the Grain Deal is restored.

As a result, Russia struck terminals and storages of different types of grains in ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdennyi in Odesa Oblast.

The second goal is to disrupt alternative Ukrainian grain export routes. Airstrikes on the south of Odesa Oblast, namely on the port of Reni, which was spared from Russia’s air assaults in over a year, demonstrate this. Reni port, located on the Danube River, is a key logistic point on the alternative export route.

Russia jeopardises Black Sea security

Russia’s actions in the Black Sea, including attacks on Ukrainian ports, are part of a larger plan not only to undermine Ukraine’s economy and blackmail the world with hunger, but to also disrupt the Black Sea security.

Russia has been attempting to blockade the Black Sea in order to gain control of it since day the first day of the full-scale invasion, if not earlier.

For Russia, it is critical to keep the navy of three NATO states - Türkiye, Bulgaria, and Romania - close to their shores in order to demonstrate that the Black Sea is under Russian control. That is also why we’ve see recent statements about potential attacks of ships in neutral waters.

The plan also includes repositioning Russian ships, particularly as they approach Turkish shores. It’s a demonstration of how far they’ll go to dominate the sea.

How Türkiye responds is crucial. The question is: for how long Türkiye will allow Russia to behave this way in the Black Sea and what actions it can take to counter Moscow.

Due to Türkiye’s “regional ownership” approach and the Montreux Convention, it will not allow additional NATO ships to come to the Black Sea.

How to Counter Russia in the Black Sea

There are several ways to counter Russia in the Black Sea.

First, guarantee the safety and freedom of navigation by increasing patrols of the Black Sea with NATO ships and aircrafts. Thus a demonstration that Russia does, in fact, not control the whole of the Black Sea. If commercial ships' ability to fulfill their duties is guaranteed, it could push Russia’s navy out of the western part of the Black Sea.

Second, is increased reconnaissance, which NATO missions already undertake by means of air patrol over the Black Sea. Russians are clearly afraid of being exposed, based on previous experience and lessons learned.

Russia is aware that when clear data from reconnaissance aircrafts is obtained, its illegal actions will be documented, and analysed, and actions may follow as a response.

Dr. Hanna Shelest, Director of Security Programmes at the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”