ussian could target civilian ships in the Black Sea in a bid to “destroy” Ukraine’s exports following the collapse of a crucial grain deal, the Government has warned.
It comes as Rishi Sunak said he was “appalled” by Russian strikes on Odesa in a call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as he stressed UK efforts to restore the Black Sea Grain Initiative ended by Moscow.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly warned: “The UK believes that Russia may escalate its campaign to destroy Ukraine’s food exports by targeting civilian ships in the Black Sea.”
He said that the Government would raise this “unconscionable behaviour” at the UN Security Council.
“Russia should stop holding global food supplies hostage and return to the deal,” Mr Cleverly said.
Britain’s UN ambassador Barbara Woodward also warned on Tuesday that Russia is suspected of laying more sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports.
She said: “Our information also indicates that Russia has laid additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports. We agree with the US assessment that this is a coordinated effort to justify and lay blame on Ukraine for any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea.”
The grain deal, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, was broken off earlier this month by Russia in a move that sparked fresh concerns about global food security as the war drags on.
In recent days Russia has also fired dozens of missiles and drones at the Odesa region, a key Ukrainian hub for exporting grain.
In a phone call on Tuesday, the Prime Minister told Mr Zelensky that the UK was working with Turkey to revive the initiative and was continuing to monitor the situation.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The leaders discussed recent developments on the battlefield and the continued progress by Ukrainian forces despite the challenging conditions.
“The Prime Minister added that he was appalled by the devastation caused by recent Russian attacks on Odesa.
“Discussing the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the leaders agreed on the importance of ensuring grain was able to be exported from Ukraine to reach international markets.
“The Prime Minister said the UK was working closely with Turkey on restoring the grain deal, and we would continue to use our role as chair of the UN Security Council to further condemn Russia’s behaviour.”
According to a read-out released by Downing Street, Mr Sunak said that “Russia was increasingly looking to target merchant vessels in the Black Sea area and the UK was carefully monitoring the situation alongside our partners”.
Mr Zelensky said that the pair “spoke about Russia’s daily attempts to destroy Odesa’s historic centre and port infrastructure”.
“We must defend Odesa. Ukraine urgently needs to strengthen its air defence to protect its historical heritage and continue the Black Sea Grain Initiative.”