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The Battle To Clear The Black Sea Of Mines – Analysis

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In late December, a Panama-flagged cargo ship en route to a Danube River port for grain loading, a crucial export for war-affected Ukraine, was rocked by an explosion in the Black Sea.The blast, attributed to a Russian mine, altered the vessel's course, ignited a deck fire, and wounded two crew members. This marked the second such incident in the major trade route within two months. Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Black Sea has transformed into a conflict zone, teeming with mines and facing aerial threats.

Amid the escalating dangers, Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, the sole NATO members with direct Black Sea access, announced on January 11 a collaborative effort to clear sea mines. The Mine Countermeasures Naval Group in the Black Sea (MCM Black Sea) was established through a memorandum of understanding signed by the defense ministers of Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria. The joint initiative, employing minesweepers, minehunters, helicopters, and drones, aims to safeguard Black Sea shipping and address the heightened risks posed by Russian activities.

Although emphasizing the force's peaceful nature, officials from the three countries revealed plans for operational minesweeping within a few months. While not formally involved, NATO expressed support, acknowledging the substantial threats posed by Russia's actions in the Black Sea and commending the counter-mine naval group.

The genesis of this trilateral effort traces back to October 2023 when NATO defense ministers proposed the creation of a security belt free from mines to protect Ukrainian exports. The Black Sea witnessed a surge in sea mine deployment after Russia withdrew from a UN-brokered grain export deal in July 2023, targeting Ukrainian port facilities and grain shipments. As a response, Ukraine established new shipping corridors along the coastlines of Romania and Bulgaria.

The perilous situation escalated further when a Panamanian vessel fell victim to a mine on December 28, prompting concerns about the extent of damage. With mines proliferating in the Black Sea, the joint mine-clearing initiative signifies a crucial step toward securing the vital maritime routes that have become central to Ukraine's economic survival.


Metis Insights: Black Sea Grain Initiative


Source: Eurasia Review