In the latest in the battle for the Black Sea and its export routes, Russia has confirmed Sunday that its warship fired on a foreign cargo vessel which was headed towards the Ukrainian port of Izmail.
Russia is now intercepting and inspecting cargo ships near Ukrainian ports, after Kremlin officials complained that the prior grain deal enabled the Ukrainians to secretly import military cargo.
The Russian patrol ship has been identified as Vasily Bykov. It fired after the Palau-flagged civilian cargo ship allegedly did not respond to the request that it stop for "the inspection for the transportation of prohibited goods."
"To force the ship to stop, warning shots from automatic small arms were fired from the Russian warship," the Defense Ministry said, and described that Russian troops on a helicopter then boarded and inspected the vessel.
Nothing illicit was found aboard the Vasily Bykov and it was allowed to continue on its way, but likely other ships will take note, given the 'live fire' incident and rising dangers.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is still seeking alternative routes for exports, including with the assistance of NATO member Romania:
Ukraine announced it will open a "humanitarian corridor" in the Black Sea to release cargo ships trapped in its ports since the outbreak of war, a new test of Russia’s de facto blockade since Moscow abandoned a deal last month to let Kyiv export grain from its sea ports.
At least initially, the corridor, which was announced on Thursday, would apply to vessels such as container ships that have been stuck in Ukrainian ports since the February 2022 invasion by Russian, and were not covered by the deal that opened the ports for grain shipments last year.
A Ukraine navy statement said it will "primarily be used for civilian ships which have been in the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk, Odesa, and Pivdennyi since the beginning of the full-scale invasion by Russia on February 24, 2022."
"Vessels whose owners/captains officially confirm that they are ready to sail in the current conditions will be allowed to pass through the routes," it added, but acknowledged the risk from the Russian navy: "The corridor will be very transparent. We will put cameras on the ships and there will be a broadcast to show that this is purely a humanitarian mission and has no military purpose."