Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Intelligence shows Russia may target Black Sea civilian shipping [October 2023]

The press release issued by the Foreign Office on 4 October 2023.

Intelligence reveals Russia may use sea mines to target civilian shipping in the Black Sea to deter the export of Ukrainian grain.

  • intelligence released today suggests Russia may use sea mines to target civilian shipping in the Black Sea
  • Russian attacks have already destroyed enough grain to feed more than one million people for a year
  • the UK assesses that Russia would lay blame on Ukraine for any attacks
  • the UK has increased support for the world’s most vulnerable following Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July

Information declassified today shows Russia may continue to target civilian shipping in the Black Sea, including by laying sea mines in the approach to Ukrainian ports. The UK previously warned that the Russian military had attempted a missile strike against a cargo ship in the Black Sea.

The UK assesses Russia is seeking to target civilian shipping travelling through Ukraine’s ‘humanitarian corridor’ in order to deter the export of Ukrainian grain. This would continue Russia’s attempts to pressure the Ukrainian economy. Russia almost certainly wants to avoid openly sinking civilian ships, instead falsely laying blame on Ukraine for any attacks against civilian vessels in the Black Sea.

By releasing our assessment of this intelligence, the UK seeks to expose Russia’s tactics to deter any such incident from occurring.

We are working with Ukraine and other partners to put in place arrangements to improve the safety of shipping. Our advice to British shipping has not changed – the UK’s maritime security level for Ukrainian ports and waters remains at the highest level due to the threat posed by Russia.

The UK has put in place intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to monitor Russian activity in the Black Sea. These capabilities will help us to attribute and call out any further Russian attacks on civilian shipping or infrastructure.

We are committed to ensuring Ukraine can continue to export its agricultural produce through all appropriate routes including its ‘humanitarian corridor’, overland and via the Danube. The UK will continue to work with Ukraine and a range of international partners to achieve this. At the G20 in September, the Prime Minister announced a further UK contribution of £3 million to the World Food Programme to help deliver Ukrainian grain to the world’s poorest, building upon our earlier contributions to President Zelenskyy’s ‘Grain from Ukraine’ initiative. The best way for Russia to address concerns around global food security would be for it withdraw its forces from Ukraine and end the war.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said:

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.

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.

Russia’s latest plans are part of a wider pattern of Russian aggression in the Black Sea. Since July, Russia has systematically targeted Ukrainian port and civilian infrastructure.

While the UK and our partners continue to do all we can to ensure Ukraine’s exports reach those who need it most, this pattern of deliberately targeted attacks in the Black Sea by Russia demonstrates President Putin’s willingness to weaponise food and innocent trade at the expense of the rest of the world as they block food from reaching world markets.

Since the withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Russia has:

  • damaged 130 port infrastructure facilities in Odesa, Chornomorsk and Reni
  • destroyed almost 300,000 tonnes of grain – more than the total amount Russia promised to donate to African states, and enough to feed over 1.3 million people for a year

Because of Russia’s decision to withdraw up to 24 million tonnes of foodstuffs from Ukraine may now not reach global markets over the coming year unless Ukraine can stand up alternative export routes.

Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine was feeding 400 million people worldwide and accounted for 8% to 10% of global wheat exports and 10% to 12% of corn and barley exports.

Ukraine provided over 50% of the wheat for the World Food Programme (WFP) in 2022 without the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the WFP will have to replace this with more expensive or lower quality wheat.