The Black Sea, which for a long time was overlooked in analyzes of the war in Ukraine, has recently become a place of military and geopolitical tensions, writes the American daily The New York Times.
The authors draw attention to the economic and military consequences of Moscow's withdrawal from the grain agreement. In their opinion, the risk of an "inadvertent incident" that could get out of control is growing.
After Moscow withdrew from the grain agreement, which guaranteed the safe transport of agricultural products across the Black Sea, Russia launched attacks on Ukrainian ports. Ukraine responded last week with an attack on Russian ships, demonstrating the range of its new naval drones, which can hit targets hundreds of kilometers off its coast. Kyiv also warned that six Russian Black Sea ports and their approaches would be seen as "war risk" areas until further notice.
"We must defend our coast starting from the enemy's", argued Ukraine's navy commander Oleksiy Nejizhpapa in May, opting for a stronger response to what he described as Russian tyranny in the international waters of the Black Sea.
The New York Times pointed out that the struggle for control of the Black Sea could affect the energy and food situation in the world. Almost certainly, the daily noted, they will also pose new challenges for NATO, which will try to defend the fundamental principle of international law, which is freedom of navigation, while avoiding drawing the alliance into direct conflict with Russia.
"The Black Sea has become a conflict zone, a war zone as important to NATO as western Ukraine", said Ivo Daalder of the Chicago Council on International Affairs, former US representative to the North Atlantic Alliance.
For centuries, the Black Sea has occupied a central place in Russia's efforts to expand its geopolitical and economic influence, which has consequently led to clashes with other world powers, many times including the Ottoman Empire. The ports on the warm waters of the sea allowed year-round trade, and the location - a "geopolitical crossroads" - allowed Moscow to influence politics in Europe or the Middle East.
Vladimir Putin has also been trying to increase his influence on the Black Sea for years, whose power invested in the development of local ports and holiday resorts. The Kremlin also expanded the fleet and military installations in the basin.
The Black Sea is also important for NATO, three members of which - Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria - have direct access to it, and there are another five Alliance partners in the region - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
Despite NATO's will to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia, the risk of an unintentional incident that could spiral out of control has been growing for some time, the New York Daily reported. The authors recalled an incident in March this year, when a Russian fighter jet hit an American MQ-9 drone about 120 kilometers from the annexed Crimea.
After the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council on July 26, the Alliance announced an increase in the number of observation flights in the region. In addition, Ukraine and some representatives of the maritime transport industry appealed to Western allies to provide escorts to vessels on which - despite Russian threats - they want to transport Ukrainian grain.
According to the New York Times, Ukraine did not have the means to fight Russian control over the Black Sea for months, but it never stopped working to strengthen them. Last week, Ukrainian forces managed to launch surprise attacks on two Russian ships.
"Our vision is the need to replace the Soviet principle of 'mass and strength' with the Western principle of quality", explained the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian naval forces. Specialist in the field of warfare of the 21st century P.W. Singer estimated that Ukraine now uses a significantly improved fleet of next-generation sea drones.
The creators of these machines argue that their range is 450 nautical miles (about 830 kilometers), which means that the device launched from the port of Odessa can reach Novorossiysk, where the Black Sea Fleet landing ship Oleniegorskij Gorniak was successfully attacked on Friday. In addition, the Security Service of Ukraine together with the Ukrainian Navy conducted a special operation, as a result of which a large tanker SIG was damaged near the Kerch Strait.