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9 Sep 2023

NextImg:Getting Involved? British Planes 'Deter' Russian Airforce Over Black Sea

The United Kingdom will be engaged in “military efforts to deter Russian attacks” over the Black Sea, the Prime Minister’s Office has said, as the government condemns the Kremlin for damaging global food security.

Russia withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Deal in July, an agreement brokered between Putin’s government and Turkey which allowed ships carrying Ukrainian-grown grain to transit the Black Sea to the world beyond. The deal was seen as critical given that Ukraine exports represent one of the top sources of grain for areas such as North Africa and the Near East, and a slump in supply by grain being held up in Ukraine saw global prices soar, intensifying hardship for many.

The British government has said the deal provided “a lifeline for millions of people around the world who depend on Ukrainian grain exports”.

Despite Russia’s move to resume attacking civilian ships in the Black Sea — which is Ukraine’s main logistical link to the outside world for bulk cargo — the UK said it would be providing cover in the region to see the flow of ships continue.

In a statement by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office on Friday, the UK said it would use the nation’s “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” in “military efforts to deter Russian attacks” in the Black Sea. It said it would alert the world if intelligence showed Russia was about to launch attacks on civilian shipping, and would reveal the attacker should they take place to “prevent false flag claims that seek to deflect blame from Russia”.

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Making clear how this would be achieved, the UK stated there would be British warplanes deployed to the Black Sea. The statement asserted: “As part of these surveillance operations, RAF aircraft are conducting flights over the area to deter Russia from carrying out illegal strikes against civilian vessels transporting grain.”

While it is clear the deterrence in this case comes from the risk to Russia of being observed in the act of launching attacks and that being shared with the world, previous experience in the Ukraine War shows the close proximity of Western assets to Russia increases the risk of confrontation.

In March, a U.S. ‘Reaper’-type unmanned aerial surveillance and attack drone was lost over the Black Sea after aggressively manoeuvring Russian jets harassed the platform. Ultimately, either in a calculated escalation or a fumble by the Russian pilot, one of the jets clipped the drone with its wing during a fast pass, sending the unmanned aircraft tumbling into the sea.

Attacks on merchant ships are not the only way in which Russia has sought to destroy Ukraine’s grain-exporting infrastructure during the course of the war. Some strikes, it is claimed, appear to have purposefully targeted grain storage and handling facilities, and a particular feature of the recent war has been concentrated on the bombing of ports. As Ukraine has shifted its focus away from the Black Sea to try and export to Europe’s interior up the Danube river, attacks have been launched against Ukraine’s river ports too.

Some of these have come remarkably close to NATO territory, with attacks on one Ukrainian port reported to have been observed at close range by Romanian NATO troops stationed just 200 yards away on the other side of the river.

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