Dryad Global: A Security Update on the Current Status in the Black Sea

What is the current status of the UN brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative?

Following the attack on the 29 October 22 on Russian Naval vessels within the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, the Russian Federation announced the suspension of its participation within the UN brokered Black Sea Grain deal.

According to a UN statement, the Russian Federation informed that while it has suspended its participation in the implementation of the activities of the Initiative, including inspections, for an indefinite period of time, it will continue dialogue with the UN and Turkish delegations on pressing issues. The Russian Federation delegation also expressed its readiness to cooperate remotely on issues that require immediate decision by the JCC.

At the time of publication, the UN and Turkish delegations are understood to be prioritising the inspection of outbound vessels only with 40 vessels understood to have been processed on the 31 October 22. The UN is understood to be focused upon the clearing of the backlog of vessels within the Sea of Marmara before consideration is given to processing additional inbound vessels.

In addition, the delegations agreed a movement plan for 16 vessels on the 31 October 22, inclusive of 12 outbound and 4 inbound vessels.

It is understood that there are currently 97 loaded vessels, and 15 inbound vessels registered for JCC inspection around Istanbul. An additional 89 vessels have applied to join the Initiative. Beyond these vessels, there are currently a further 21 vessels engaged in the Initiative that are in or near the three Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chormunsk, and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.

The continued operation of the Initiative will likely depend upon several key factors which the UN has recognised and is taking measures to address. The first of these is the considerable backlog of vessels awaiting inspection at Istanbul. The UN and Turkey hope to provide additional inspection capacity to make up for the shortfall in Russian participation and manage the backlog of vessels in the Sea of Marmara to ensure the continued operation of the initiative and flow of product to essential markets.

Despite Russia no longer being part of the consensus framework involving the signatory states an apparent key component of the JCC future operations will be to inform Russia of the impending movement plan on a day-by-day basis. Despite this, it is unknown to what extend any Russian veto or objection to the planned movements would impact operations.

Whilst the language of the UN announcement indicates an intent to proceed with the implementation of JCC operations in accordance with the goals and provisions stated in the Initiative, it is unclear whether the current provisions will suffice across the medium to longer term. It is assessed that vessels will continue to be processed outbound for a period approximately 48hrs from the 31 October 22. Beyond this time it is unclear whether the Initiative will continue to function and what form this will take.

What is the position of the Russian Federation with regards to its role in the Black Sea Grain Initiative?

Following the Russian announcement that it had suspended participation in the Initiative, the Russian envoy to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, informed the Security Council that the Russian Navy will inspect all cargo ships bound for Ukraine, including those unilaterally cleared by the Turkish based JCC. Details regarding the Russian Naval inspections are currently unknown. The establishing of a Russian inspection area for inbound vessels has the potential to act as an effective naval blockade in the event that Russia does not return to the deal in the short term.

Russia has ensured that comments regarding its position are made at the highest levels with President Putin stating that Ukraine must guarantee the safety of all vessels operating within the Black Sea, notably including the Russian Navy. The statement has broadly been interpreted to indicate a Russian willingness, at least in the short term, to continue to facilitate outbound transits. However, Russia is setting the conditions for the blame to fall on Ukraine should any incident occur against a vessel.

The Russian Defence Ministry has made repeated but unspecific statements that vessels transiting the Maritime Humanitarian corridor are unacceptable. It is assessed that Russia’s primary concern continues to be the inbound transit of vessels which Russia fears have the potential to be used for weapons smuggling. Unsubstantiated reports indicated that Russia had called for all vessels within the Humanitarian Corridor to return to Ukrainian ports. As of 31 October 22, 12 vessels were able to depart Ukrainian ports and transit the Maritime Humanitarian Corridor.

Russian strategic interests are best served through participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Russian short-term signalling is an indication that it knows this and that it intends to use the Ukrainian attack on Sevastopol as a pretext to secure the concessions it requires for renegotiation, originally intended for 19 November 22. It is assessed that Russia’s primary intent is to ensure the export of Russian fertilizer products and secure sanctions reprieve for such products. Russia is highly likely to seek to limit the effectiveness of the current Grain Initiative to ensure this occurs.

How is security being guaranteed for vessels involved in the Black Sea Grain Initiative in the absence of Russian participation?

It is understood that there are no additional security provisions beyond the original operational procedures, as laid out by the UN at the outset of the Initiative. Despite the Russian Federation no longer participating in the Initiative, it is understood that it will continue to be informed of planned daily movements in order to ensure that the potential for miscalculation is mitigated as much as possible. All vessels proceeding outbound should continue to implement all UN approved measures. In addition, there is a high likelihood that vessels should expect to encounter Russian naval inspections. Few details are known regarding these; however, vessels are advised to comply fully with all instructions and notify the JCC immediately of any difficulties or concerns.

What is the risk to vessels currently involved in the Black Sea Grain Initiative:

The risk profile to vessels and crews operating within the Black Sea Grain Initiative was underpinned by the collective investment of all signatory states to the principles of the deal. With the suspension of Russian participation, the guarantees of security are no longer underpinned to the same extent. As such, the risk to vessels and crews from commercial interruption and risk to safety are considerably enhanced across the short to medium term.

An important distinction to be made is that the Russian Federation have suspended participation, however it remains a signatory state to the Initiative. As such, Russia has intimated a potential to return to participation pending renegotiation. Further still, as a signatory state, Russia continues to have a commitment to uphold the principles of the agreement, notably the agreement to not undertake any attacks or actions that may compromise the safety of any civilian vessel or crew.

It is assessed that within the short term, the primary risk is the potential for further escalation or miscalculation. It is assessed as unlikely that Russia would seek to conduct overt military action against any civilian vessel operating within the agreed rules and parameters of the original agreement.

Beyond the immediate risk of vessel and crew safety, Russia has shown a willingness to conduct operations at the theoretical fringes of the initiative. This included attacks against the Port of Odessa and port infrastructure on the first day of the initiative. Such attacks are assessed as more likely as a result of the current suspension of Russian involvement in the initiative. Following a meeting at the UN security council on the 01 November 22, Russia is unlikely to allow the successful operation of the initiative without its participation. Russian courses of action to curtail the successful operation are likely to include kinetic strikes on port infrastructure where the opportunity presents itself or a naval blockade of Ukrainian waters under the auspices of Russian inspections.
In the event that either Ukraine continues to mount successful large scale attacks against Russia in the maritime domain, or that Russia cannot be negotiated back into the parameters of the initiative, it is highly likely that Russia will seek to severely limit Ukrainian maritime capacity including the likelihood of significant attacks on key Ukrainian export terminals.
Source: Dryad Global (https://www.dryadglobal.com/e3t/Ctc/T8+113/czsyq04/VWp8Xx5TlY67W92G3jd7YNPP_W4lQ0X34RSvdjN2jjSxk3q3nJV1-WJV7CgQ_yN2Zdfj_FNFZ3W4p1HKW7b9XS8W4ZgP-B7tN1qcW35F9Lt1nC8qdW8W1zQC7VZjwfN4yyllsxRySjW7RZc8H6-DmjsW8H9nN96V94zrW6bCS948Skbt1W3lm3yg5mw5LKW8Spxvc1xGv_MW8gk1781nw03NW5gyv2D2vSghWW1LqNHp26KVHCW3mXz8C690qrTW5-jg9t7m9gxDW1v9cSF4hchkjW2rJt_C45LBx6W6TY_Sd99bMn_W2gxW1q7JPw4cW7sbZzQ7cy355W6QLKrk46G-rrVmvfhc6s36PtMgFK8k1vdDn3dRs1)

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