Putin cuts off vital shipping route to Ukraine while his forces move on Kiev


Vladimir Putin has cut off a vital shipping route used by Ukraine as his forces launched an all-out invasion of the country by land, sea and air.

Marine trackers show Russian tankers appear to be blockading the Kerch Strait, which links the Azov Sea with the Black Sea. The ships are currently at anchor, with a large number of foreign vessels unable to get through.

Ukraine’s military has now suspended operations at its ports. Russia had earlier closed the Azov Sea to commercial vessels until further notice, but kept Russian ports in the Black Sea open.

Putin authorised ‘a special military operation’ against Ukraine in the early hours of the morning, and by midday the skies over Kiev swarmed with Russian attack helicopters which seized control of Gostomel air base.

Russia and Ukraine are both major exporters of wheat and grain, and industry experts predict the war will prompt a rise in global food prices.

Marine trackers show Russian tankers appear to be blockading the Kerch Strait, which links the Azov Sea with the Black Sea. The ships are currently at anchor, with a large number of foreign vessels unable to get through

Marine trackers show Russian tankers appear to be blockading the Kerch Strait, which links the Azov Sea with the Black Sea. The ships are currently at anchor, with a large number of foreign vessels unable to get through

Ukraine's military has now suspended operations at its ports. Russia had earlier closed the Azov Sea to commercial vessels until further notice. Pictured is  Russian ship heading to the sea of Azov earlier this week

Ukraine’s military has now suspended operations at its ports. Russia had earlier closed the Azov Sea to commercial vessels until further notice. Pictured is  Russian ship heading to the sea of Azov earlier this week

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, told MailOnline: ‘Russia and Ukraine make up 29% of wheat exports, 19% of exported corn and 80% of sunflower oil exports with Turkey and Egypt the largest importers from the region.

‘Although the UK isn’t among the main markets for these exports, our food prices are still likely to go up because fewer supplies from the region would hit global food prices, which will impact the cost of food supplied to the UK too.’

One European grain trader said: ‘The market is still struggling to get a clear picture about the actual military situation on the ground. 

‘The ports in the Azov and Black Sea so far seem not to have been damaged according to the initial shipping agency reports.

‘The next stage which will have to be faced is any declarations of force majeure, if ships simply cannot be loaded and contracts cannot be fulfilled.’

The Kerch Strait is used by ships carrying grain, corn and sunflower oil from Ukrainian ports including Mariupol, which appears to be under fierce attack by Russian forces.

Today, a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Agency for Maritime Transport confirmed it had suspended shipping in the Azov Strait, claiming it was ‘in connection with the conduct of anti-terrorist activities’.

It came as the Kremlin claimed two Russian cargo ships had been hit by missiles – an assertion that could not be verified. 

The Kerch Strait is used by ships carrying grain, corn and sunflower oil from Ukrainian ports including Mariupol (pictured yesterday before the Russian invasion)

The Kerch Strait is used by ships carrying grain, corn and sunflower oil from Ukrainian ports including Mariupol (pictured yesterday before the Russian invasion) 

Preparing the defences: Ukrainian tanks are seen rolling into Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine, after Putin declared war

Preparing the defences: Ukrainian tanks are seen rolling into Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine, after Putin declared war 

Ukrainian troops are seen on the top of a tank heading into Mariupol, near the occupied Donbass region

Ukrainian troops are seen on the top of a tank heading into Mariupol, near the occupied Donbass region 

Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, mainly ships its grain from ports in the Black Sea.

The Azov sea is home to shallow water ports of smaller capacity.

Maripol, the most important Ukrainian port in the Azov sea, mainly handles relatively small ships of between 3,000 to 10,000 tonnes deadweight.

The Azov sea ports mainly export wheat, barley and corn to Mediterranean importers like Turkey, Italy, Cyprus, Egypt and Lebanon.

‘These countries would be compelled to seek alternative supplies if ships are stuck and cannot depart in the near future,’ another European trader said.

The attack has come to Ukraine on all fronts, with bombs and missiles striking targets across the country, ground forces rolling in from Belarus, Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk, and paratroopers dropping on Kharkiv

Wheat prices in Chicago rose to the highest level in 9-1/2 years on Thursday as the conflict threatened to disrupt the flow of supplies from the region while European wheat futures climbed to a record peak.

Russia and Ukraine account for 29% of global wheat exports, 19% of world maize (corn) supplies, and 80% of world sunflower oil exports.

Russia produced 76 million tonnes of wheat last year and is expected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to export 35 million tonnes in the July-June season, 17% of the global total.

Russia supplies wheat to all the major global buyers. Turkey and Egypt are the largest importers.

Ukraine asked Turkey to close the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to the Russian ships, the Ukrainian ambassador to Ankara said earlier today.

There has been no reaction yet to Ankara’s request. 

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