Ukraine has announced they will establish a corridor for merchant and civilian vessels that have been stuck in its ports since Russia’s invasion in February 24, 2022. However, it warned ships that Russia’s naval presence still posed a threat to their safety.
The Ukrainian Navy stated on social media that “according to the order of the Naval Assignment of the Armed Forces No. 6 from 08.08.2023, new temporary routes of civilian ships to/from the Black Sea ports of Ukraine were announced.” The Navy added the warning, saying “it is reported that throughout all routes there is a military threat and mortal danger from the Russian Federation.”
Ukraine has stated that the coordinates of the route have been shared with the International Maritime Organization, which has urged Russia to respect the civilian chipping in the western Black Sea. “The Council of the International Maritime Organization recognized the right of Ukraine to free trade shipping, which is guaranteed by international maritime law,” the Navy’s statement added.
The ports named in the statements include Chornomorsk, Odessa, and Pivdenny, of which several have been the target of Russian missile strikes in recent months. “Vessels whose owners/captains officially confirm readiness to sail in current conditions will be allowed to pass through routes.” There are an estimated 60 vessels that have been stuck since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, with most of the crews having been evacuated.
Speaking to Reuters, Oleh Chalyk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s navy, noted that “the corridor will be very transparent, we will put cameras on the ships and there will be a broadcast to show that this is purely a humanitarian mission and has no military purpose.”
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This is the first time Ukraine has challenged Russia’s announcement that it would treat any ship in the vicinity of a Ukrainian port as a combatant vessel. The opening of sea lanes may prove to be a test of Moscow’s will to carry out such a threat.
Following Russia’s withdrawal from the Turkey and United Nations broker grain deal, the UN has expressed significant concern regarding the food crisis in some of the poorer countries, particularly in Africa.
“Given that the Black Sea [grain deal] initiative has come to an end and the maritime humanitarian corridor has been terminated, all ships traversing the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports shall be viewed as potential carriers of military-purpose cargos, starting from 00:00 a.m. Moscow time on July 20, 2023,” the Russian Defense Ministry said at the time.
However, the Kremlin has insisted that it will only reengage in the deal if more favorable terms are are available for its own grain shipments.
“World leaders, including African countries, urged Russia to stop blackmailing the food and not to interfere with Ukrainian agroexport,” the Ukrainian Navy statement concluded. The Kremlin has yet to issue a statement in response to the announcement.