Russian Defence Ministry issues northwest Black Sea mine warning

Russia’s Defence Ministry has warned that it has detected a drifting Ukrainian naval mine. “The Black Sea Fleet command has issued a warning to sailors about the risk of mines along the shipping route in the northwestern part of the Black Sea,” the statement said.

It claimed that the mine dated from early 2022, when “indiscriminate minelaying was conducted in the coastal waters of the Black Sea, regardless of the threat to navigation safety.”

It continued: “In March 2022, two anchor mines deployed by the Ukrainian military in the waters off the coast of Odessa were spotted drifting off the coasts of Romania and Turkey. Tragedy was avoided then”.

The Russian Defence Ministry claimed that “the Ukrainian Navy’s unprofessionalism and irresponsibility have resulted in the fact that an unidentified number of mines are currently drifting in the waters of the Black Sea, posing a constant threat to navigation.”

The heightened focus on the Black Sea from Russia coincided with a scramble late last week by the west to keep the Black Sea Corridor alive, even if on life support.

The European Commission and the UN were working with Turkiye to try to find a path that would see the deal being extended.  On Thursday an EU spokesman claimed that it was open to “explore all solutions”. It appeared to be occurring to the EU that the standard “kick the can down the road” strategy was not working this time, and that its attempt to keep the corridor open in return for a promise that some time in the future a system could be set up to facilitate SWIFT payments for non-sanctioned Russian agricultural goods, was not working with Russia.

While the EU had said that it was considering connecting a subsidiary of the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the international payment network SWIFT to allow for grain and fertilizer transactions, a plan rebroadcast last week by the UN, Russia appeared to be unwilling to accept a “jam tomorrow” offer.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin last Tuesday July 11th that Moscow allow the Black Sea grain deal to continue for several months to give the EU time to connect a Rosselkhozbank subsidiary to SWIFT. Russia declined to reply (it had already rejected this proposal when it was put forward by the EU). Russia’s TASS news agency reported that Putin said he had not seen the letter from Guterres, but noted that Russia was in contact with UN officials.

“We can suspend our participation in the deal, and if everyone once again says that all the promises made to us will be fulfilled, then let them fulfil this promise. We will immediately rejoin this deal,” Putin told Russian state television. A spokesman for the Kremlin later said that Russia had not taken a final decision on whether to exit the grain deal.

The EU said on Thursday July 13th that “we are assisting the talks led by the UN and Turkiye as required. We are of course open to explore all solutions that contribute to our objective, whilst continuing to ensure that Russia’s ability to wage war in Ukraine is hampered as much as possible.” EC President Ursula von der Leyen believed on Thursday that “the ball is in President Putin’s court and the world is watching”.

Objectively, this does not appear to be the case, as it is the EC that looks to be under most pressure when it comes to the Corridor deal looking set to expire.