The grain agreement between Ukraine and Russia has failed, despite Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, calling it a “beacon of hope” at one point. The pact, also called the Black Sea Grain Initiative, has been extended four times, but on July 17, Russia decided to let it run its course. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had voiced its displeasure with the way the arrangement has been implemented, but the tipping point was reached when the Ukrainian military launched an attack on a bridge in Crimea. Russia also said any ship sailing to and fro Ukrainian ports would be considered legitimate military targets.
Given the above, the Analysts from the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) have devised a series of recommendations for Kyiv to “protect Black Sea trade” in response to the evolving situation. The report’s authors are PISM experts Daniel Sheligovsky and Mariusz Andrzej Piotrowski. The report contains a range of recommendations, including those related to international initiatives.
As per the report, Ukraine’s capacity to deter and counter Russian threats to its marine exports still needs to improve despite recent improvements. The report says that Ukraine’s military equipment donors can provide additional defensive and offensive systems to broaden and bolster these capabilities. Here are the key recommendations in the report.
The Special Operations Forces and Ministry of Internal Affairs personnel, responsible for combating saboteurs in port regions, may still be active in Ukraine. In these locations, it is evident that Ukraine possesses valuable counterintelligence services. Nevertheless, incorporating specific capabilities into high-intensity counter-offensives may have diminished the effectiveness of these capabilities.
Naval Mine Clearance
Ukraine’s minehunting fleet is relatively small, consisting of only two vessels; nonetheless, both ships are now operating to protect the strategically important port of Odesa. The potential insufficiency of two vessels belonging to this particular class necessitates prompt action from Ukraine’s allies to augment their fleet with comparable or larger ships or naval drones capable of conducting maritime surveillance and ensuring the safety of communication routes.
Counteracting Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs)
It is anticipated that protecting Ukraine’s small fleet and the coastal defence stations will be the country’s top priority. However, it is important to remember that these forces are insufficient if Russian USVs are used to a greater extent. In addition, putting this idea into action would require the introduction of additional mechanisms for both detection and counteraction.
Protection of Civilian Vessels
At the moment, Ukraine is dealing with a lack of marine vessels, which is necessary for the uninterrupted provision of escort and protection services to commercial vessels operating within its territorial seas. The presence of Ukrainian military troops aboard these warships is an equally dubious possibility. Nevertheless, the speedy deployment of an additional adaptable helicopter fleet would make it possible for Ukraine to swiftly respond to any attempts by Russia to intercept civilian vessels closer to Ukrainian ports.
Air Defense and Missile Defense
At the moment, Ukraine cannot guarantee all safety precautions for its ports and those used by international civilian ships due to limited capabilities. However, Ukraine possesses certain weapons that allow it to defend Odesa against limited Russian attacks with cruise missiles or planes. Central purchasing supplementary air defence systems, specifically HAWK, NASAMS, and IRIS-T, may significantly improve Ukraine’s defensive capabilities.
In addition, the acquisition of a significantly larger quantity of Pantsir-S1 and/or SAMP-T units by Ukraine is an absolute necessity if the country is going to improve its defensive capabilities against the Iskander-M and Kinzhal missile systems.
The Ukrainian government has successfully stopped barrages of kamikaze drones from Russia flying over Ukrainian land. Due to the current state of affairs regarding safety, Ukraine’s allies must deliver additional mobile short-range air defence systems to the Odesa region. Some examples of these systems include the ZSU-23, “Gepard,” and “Avenger.”
Strikes on Russian Ships and Ports
In August, Ukraine gave a convincing demonstration of the capabilities of its USVs to engage in offensive actions against vessels belonging to the Russian Navy and commercial tankers.
These naval drones have capabilities that are asymmetrical and improvised. It is important to highlight that Ukraine currently owns a prototype launcher derived from the local coastal defence system known as “Neptune.” This launcher has a range of 300 km and was allegedly used to sink the missile cruiser “Moskva” in 2022. In addition, Ukraine possesses anything from two to three American HCDS/Harpoons, each with a range of 120 kilometres. The Russian Navy’s operational capabilities are constrained due to these systems; however, it is required to supplement them with extended-range systems such as the NSM and RBS-15 missiles, each with a range of approximately 200 km. It is of the utmost necessity that Ukraine acquires additional guided missiles, namely those designed for ground target engagement, such as Storm Shadow/SCALP, German Taurus or the French Apache, and American ballistic missiles ATACMS.
Multirole Jet Fighters
Over the following few months, Ukraine is expected to be forced to deal with the overall deterioration of its post-Soviet aircraft fleet. The procurement of a fighter aircraft that can take over for the MiG-29, which is now being used in combat operations against Russian aerial assets, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and cruise missiles, as well as occasionally performing strikes on terrestrial objectives, is an absolute necessity for Ukraine at this time. The rearmament of the Ukrainian Air Force with F-16s or other European fighter aircraft is expected to take place in 2024, according to current projections. Consequently, the need to ark Ukraine with supplementary offensive equipment, armed infantry battle vehicles, or UAVs cannot be overstated.
PISM’s proposed recommendations could be more practical, notably in their implementation. PISM has not accounted for the capacity of Ukrainian weapons donors to manufacture and supply advanced weapon systems, such as air defence systems, nor for the Russian capacity to neutralise these systems. PISM disregards the limited availability of ships and aircraft and the time required to acquire proficiency in their operation within a constrained timeframe. Most of these recommendations are applicable over an extended period and can be implemented during times of peace.