Ukraine Accuses Russia of Setting Stolen Mines Adrift in the Black Sea

A Romanian Navy EOD diver prepares to neutralize a drifting mine, March 28 (Romanian Ministry of Defense)

Published Mar 30, 2022 7:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Ukrainian foreign ministry has accused Russian forces of setting Soviet-era naval mines adrift in order to disrupt shipping and discredit Ukraine. In particular, the ministry asserted, Russia has used mines that were stored in Sevastopol and were captured from Ukraine during the first Russian invasion in 2014.

"The results of the identification established that these were sea mines, which, as of early 2022, were not registered with the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," the ministry said in a statement. "Russia, using naval mines seized from military depots in 2014, is deliberately provoking and discrediting Ukraine in front of international partners."

After Russian officials issued a NAVTEX warning about drifting Ukrainian mines earlier this month, three Soviet-era naval mines were discovered off the Black Sea coasts of Romania and Turkey. All were safely neutralized, but their presence confirmed the concerns of the shipping community about the hazards of navigation in the Black Sea amidst the ongoing hostilities.

"Russia's conscious use of drifting sea mines turns them into de facto weapons of indiscriminate action, which threatens . . . civilian shipping and human life at sea in the waters of not only the Black Sea and the Azov Seas, but also the Kerch and Black Sea Straits," the ministry asserted.

The presence of mines in the southwestern stretches of the Black Sea also adds risk to Ukraine's new plan for exporting its agricultural products. All of Ukraine's seaports are under Russian blockade, leaving the nation's farmers unable to ship wheat, corn and vegetable oil. Ukraine supplies a substantial share of the world's wheat exports, and its sudden absence from global markets is an economic blow at home and a threat to food security abroad. 

Ukraine's government has been in talks with the Romanian ministry of agriculture about arranging for a new export route from the Port of Constanta, which is outside of the designated war risk zone for the northern Black Sea. The ministry confirmed the discussions to Reuters, adding that it hopes to make arrangements as soon as possible. 

While the port of Constanta is far to the south of the war zone, the war has drifted closer. One of the three drifting naval mines was found and neutralized roughly 40-50 nm off Constanta's coast, and one more was found near the northern entrance to the Bosporus, where inbound and outbound bulkers would pass.