Ukraine has lashed out at Turkey and is currently demanding answers over a Russian-flagged cargo ship that was allowed to pass through straits controlled by the Turkish government as it sailed out of the Black Sea. Ukraine alleges the vessel was full of stolen Ukrainian grain, while Moscow has dismissed the reports as false.
Ukraine has reportedly summoned Turkey's ambassador, according to a Ukrainian foreign ministry statement Thursday. The cargo ship departed a Turkish port the day prior, with a maritime monitoring site observing that it's since moved away from the Turkish coast almost a week after arriving.
#UPDATE A disputed Russian-flagged cargo ship carrying grain Kyiv alleges was stolen from #Ukraine️ has moved away from the Turkish coast nearly a week after its arrival, a marine traffic website has showed. pic.twitter.com/WUMmjCdw23— AFP News Agency (@AFP) July 7, 2022
The statement out of Kiev said it was "unacceptable" that Turkish authorities allowed the vessel to leave. Late Wednesday it reportedly left the country's northwestern port of Karasu.
"We regret that Russia's ship Zhibek Zholy, which was full of stolen Ukrainian grain, was allowed to leave Karasu port, despite criminal evidence presented to the Turkish authorities," foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko announced.
Days ago Ukrainian officials issued formal request for their Turkish counterparts to seize the ship and arrest its operators. There were initial reports that it was in detention, but Ukrainian leaders were later outraged upon learning of its departure with a reported thousands of tonnes of Ukrainian grain.
In departing Ukraine's coast, the ship was among the first to set sail from Berdyansk port, which has been firmly under Russian military control:
Moscow-backed news channels celebrated what they called the first voyage of a commercial ship from the "liberated" port. While Zhibek Zholy may be the first to sail from Berdyansk since the war began, reports suggest other Russian ships have left other Ukrainian ports before, also carrying contested grain.
Amid the emerging global food crisis given Ukraine's grain exports have been blocked for months, something which Russia has blamed on the Ukrainians mining their ports, Kiev has consistently charged the Russians with a major and ongoing grain theft.
We regret that Russia’s ship Zhibek Zholy which was full of stolen Ukrainian grain, was allowed to leave Karasu port despite criminal evidence presented to the Turkish authorities. Türkiye’s Ambassador in Kyiv will be invited to @MFA_Ukraine to clarify this unacceptable situation— Oleg Nikolenko (@OlegNikolenko_) July 7, 2022
In the meantime, some NATO countries are in talks to cobble together an international naval coalition to provide safe passage for Ukraine's food exports, as Responsible Statecraft reviews:
More recently, as the danger of a global food crisis made worse by the loss of grain exports from Ukraine and Russia has increased, new calls have emerged for the United States and allies to use naval power to ensure that Ukrainian grain can safely transit the Black Sea.
Similar to demands for a no-fly zone, these ideas have been wrapped in humanitarian language. But in reality, they amount to a call for highly risky U.S.-led military action.
Versions of the proposal have been put forward by Lithuania’s foreign minister, retired U.S. military leaders including admiral James Stavridis, general Wesley Clark, and general Jack Keane, as well as Democratic representative Elissa Slotkin and the editorial boards of the Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal.
While these proposals vary in detail, all invoke the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention to justify and legitimize the action. The Wall Street Journal calls for a U.S.-led naval escort to be "planned and pitched as a humanitarian operation." Stavridis referred to his plan as a "humanitarian grain mission" while Slotkin simply called for a "humanitarian escort." The Boston Globe called its proposal a "human-rights mission" while the Lithuanian foreign minister deemed it a "non-military humanitarian mission."
The Russian-flagged vessels path over the past week, via Al Jazeera:
These calls for such intervention on the Black Sea are likely only to grow as the global food supply crisis gets more acute, threatening millions of people on the brink of hunger in regions that have long been heavily reliant on grain from war-ravaged Ukraine, especially in the Middle East and Africa.