As Ukraine's Grain Route Picks Up, Russia May Use Mines to Attack Ships

Drifting Soviet-era sea mine off Bulgaria, 2022 (Bulgarian Navy)
Drifting Soviet-era sea mine off Bulgaria, 2022 (Bulgarian Navy)

Published Oct 5, 2023 2:51 AM by The Maritime Executive

Just as traffic is beginning to pick up in earnest on Ukraine's near-coastal grain route, Russia is planning a possible attack on civilian shipping in order to shut it down, according to UK military intelligence. 

The UK warns that Russia may attempt to place sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports. The objective would be to deter shipping from serving Ukraine's grain export trade, furthering Russia's efforts to apply pressure to the Ukrainian economy. 

It is not the first time that Ukraine's NATO allies have warned of Russia's intention to mine the route used by grain ships. The attractiveness of mines, according to UK intelligence, is that the origin of the strike would be ambiguous and Russia would be able to falsely lay the blame on Ukraine. 

The UK has previously warned that the Russian military had attempted a missile strike against a cargo ship in the Black Sea. It would not have been the first time: in the early weeks and months of the invasion, Russia repeatedly attacked merchant shipping in Ukrainian ports and off the country's coast. 

“Russia’s pernicious targeting of civilian shipping in the Black Sea demonstrates Putin’s total disregard for civilian lives and the needs of the world’s most vulnerable," said UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. "The world is watching – and we see right through Russia’s cynical attempts to lay blame on Ukraine for their attacks. We and our allies stand united against Putin and his attempts to harm Ukraine, and thus harm the rest of the world.”

The UK also noted Russia's systematic attacks on port infrastructure in Ukraine. According to the intelligence report, Russian strikes have damaged 130 port facilities in Odesa, Chornomorsk and Reni. Over 300,000 tonnes of grain were destroyed in the strikdes. The UK noted that this was more than the amount Russia promised to donate to African states as aid after shutting down the multilateral Black Sea Grain Initiative, which had supplied half the wheat needed by the World Food Programme.

Despite these threats, activity on Ukraine's near-coastal grain route appears to be picking up. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Navy said that fully one dozen vessels were lined up to use the route, building on an initial run of five trial voyages. 

“New vessels are coming. Every farmer in the near future will be able to feel that logistics due to this route should become cheaper," said ___ Mykola Solsky in a TV interview. "The first [bulkers] left. It was expensive. The next ones are cheaper. I think freight has become 30-40 percent cheaper in the last 2-3 weeks."