Russian forces launched two Kalibr cruise missiles at a cargo ship in the Black Sea last month. Fortunately, Ukraine’s air defenses successfully intercepted and destroyed these missiles, as revealed by the UK government on Monday. This bold attack occurred in the context of escalating threats from Moscow against civilian vessels in the region.
The UK government, citing new intelligence, disclosed that Ukraine had thwarted a Russian missile strike on a cargo ship in the Black Sea in the preceding month. Although the attack was ultimately unsuccessful, it represented one of the most serious attempts to target a civilian vessel since Russia’s withdrawal from the critical Black Sea grain agreement several weeks earlier. Subsequently, Russia had been intensifying its threats against ships navigating the region, even recklessly considering them potential carriers of military cargo.
According to the UK’s foreign office, on August 24, a missile carrier from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet fired two Kalibr cruise missiles at a Liberian-flagged cargo ship anchored in the port of Odesa, a southern Ukrainian city. Fortunately, these missiles were “successfully shot down” by Kyiv’s air-defense systems.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, referencing declassified intelligence, confirmed that the Russian military had indeed targeted a civilian cargo ship in the Black Sea with multiple missiles. However, he did not provide specific details about this intelligence.
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The exact timing of the attack remains unclear. Nevertheless, on August 25, Ukraine’s air force reported that it had intercepted and destroyed missiles aimed at the Odesa region the previous night.
This incident followed Russia’s termination of the grain deal in mid-July, during which it issued warnings that all ships transiting the Black Sea could be treated as potential carriers of military cargo on behalf of the Ukrainian government, with no safety guarantees. This announcement immediately raised concerns about the safety of shipping in the region, with the White House suggesting that Moscow was trying to justify attacks on civilian vessels and blame them on Ukraine.
A few weeks later, Moscow appeared to act on its threat for the first time, firing warning shots at a Palau-flagged cargo ship and conducting a helicopter raid on the vessel. While the Russian defense ministry claimed to be searching for “prohibited goods,” the ship was eventually allowed to continue its journey to a Ukrainian port city.
Ukraine’s response to this threat included establishing a protected shipping corridor to enable safe transit through the perilous waters of the Black Sea. However, news of the deliberate attack on the Liberian-flagged cargo ship marked a dangerous escalation.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions were indicative of desperation and the futility of his efforts. Targeting cargo ships and Ukrainian infrastructure only serves to harm the global community.
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Since Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal, it has increasingly targeted Ukrainian cities, ports, and food storage facilities along the Black Sea through relentless missile and drone strikes. These attacks have resulted in casualties among civilians, as well as extensive damage to grain infrastructure and the destruction of nearly 300,000 tons of grain. This disruption has prevented critical supplies from reaching vulnerable countries worldwide, according to the UK.
The UK’s foreign office condemned Russia’s blatant disregard for civilian infrastructure and its ruthless attempts to undermine the Ukrainian economy. It pointed out that these actions, including the deliberate targeting of Black Sea shipping, demonstrated Putin’s willingness to weaponize food and innocent trade, at the expense of the global community, while blocking food from reaching world markets.
In response to these threats, the British government announced that Royal Air Force aircraft are conducting surveillance flights over the Black Sea to monitor any potential preparations by Moscow for an assault on shipping or infrastructure, aiming to deter further Russian attacks on civilian vessels.