The attempted attack, although it did not succeed, was a significant threat to a civilian ship. It happened shortly after Russia backed out of an important Black Sea grain deal and began making threats against ships in the region. Russia even stated that they might consider these ships as possible carriers of military cargo.
According to the UK’s foreign office, on August 24, a missile carrier from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet fired two Kalibr cruise missiles at a cargo ship flying the Liberian flag. This ship was docked in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa. Fortunately, Kyiv’s air-defense systems successfully intercepted and destroyed the missiles.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak mentioned this incident in a statement to lawmakers, referring to declassified intelligence. However, he did not provide further details about the intelligence.
The exact time of the attack remains unclear, but Ukraine’s air force reported destroying missiles targeting the Odesa region on August 25.
After Russia terminated the grain deal in mid-July, it issued a warning that any ships passing through the Black Sea might be seen as carrying military cargo for Ukraine. Russia also stated that these ships would not receive any safety guarantees. This announcement raised concerns about the safety of shipping in the region, and the White House suggested that Moscow might be trying to justify attacks on civilian ships and blame Ukraine for them.
Several weeks later, Moscow appeared to act on its threat when Russian forces fired warning shots at a cargo ship with a Palau flag. They also conducted a helicopter raid on the vessel. The Russian defense ministry claimed they were searching for “prohibited goods” but ultimately allowed the ship to continue its journey to a Ukrainian port city.
In response to these threats, Ukraine established a protected shipping corridor to ensure the safe transit of ships through the dangerous waters of the Black Sea. However, the attempted attack on the Liberian-flagged cargo ship marked a dangerous escalation.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, saying that Putin’s attacks on cargo ships and Ukrainian infrastructure were hurting the global community and suggested desperation on Putin’s part.
Since Russia withdrew from the grain deal, it has increased its attacks on Ukrainian cities, ports, and food storage facilities along the Black Sea, using missiles and drones. These attacks have resulted in casualties among civilians and significant damage to grain infrastructure, leading to the loss of critical grain supplies for vulnerable countries worldwide, according to the UK.
The UK’s foreign office accused Russia of targeting civilian infrastructure deliberately and trying to harm the Ukrainian economy by blocking the export of food. They noted that these attacks demonstrated Putin’s willingness to weaponize food and innocent trade to the detriment of the world.
In response to the threat of Russian attacks on civilian ships, the British government announced that the Royal Air Force is conducting surveillance flights over the Black Sea to monitor any potential preparations by Moscow for assaults on shipping or infrastructure.