Ukraine’s forces have racked up notable success against Russia’s fearsome Black Sea fleet, leading to increased grain exports despite pessimistic expectations from allies.
“Ukrainians have certainly proven themselves as scrappy throughout this conflict,” Rebekah Koffler, a strategic military intelligence analyst and the author of “Putin’s Playbook,” told Fox News Digital.
“Even now, when many analysts have given up on Ukraine’s ability to win against a much more powerful military and economy — Russia — Kyiv continues to make a tremendous effort to stay in the fight rather than negotiate with the aggressor,” Koffler said. “If the Ukrainians can maintain the sea corridor and sustain the same decent level of grain exports as it did in December, it will improve the chances of the nation’s survival, albeit not victory, against Russia’s onslaught.”
Western attention has largely focused on the results of Ukraine’s much-touted and discussed counteroffensive, which failed to produce the gains many had anticipated. Instead, Ukraine has quietly worked on securing relatively safe exports through the Black Sea, ensuring grain shipments continue during wartime.
The United Nations brokered a deal in July 2022 to ensure that the “breadbasket of Europe,” responsible for 30% of the global grain supply, would continue to ship vital grains despite a Russian blockade.
The deal collapsed one year later, and Russia started hitting grain silos, leaving many in fear of a food shortage crisis. However, as it had throughout the conflict, Ukraine refused to simply fold to Moscow’s pressure and worked tirelessly to create alternative means of shipment.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy highlighted the efforts in several speeches during his foreign state visits in the final months of 2023, claiming the Russian fleet “is no longer capable of operating in the western part of the Black Sea and is gradually retreating from Crimea.”
“This is a historic achievement,” Zelenskyy said as he tried to raise spirits and support for the continued Ukrainian effort in the face of fatigue as the war lurches toward a third year with no clear end in sight.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in December wrote an analysis of the impressive gains Ukraine has made in a largely unnoticed battle, saying Ukraine had “changed Russian naval operating patterns, causing the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) to move some ships away from its main base in Sevastopol, Crimea, and hampering the BSF’s ability to interfere with maritime trade” in the region.
The strikes, launched at the end of the summer of 2023 and through the autumn, “successfully facilitated the use of Ukraine’s Black Sea grain corridor,” ISW analysts wrote. The analysis stressed that the resistance had “hindered” the Russian fleet’s “ability to operate aggressively in the western part of the Black Sea.”
Ukraine has managed to export over 5.6 million metric tons of grain and other products through the new corridor, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink tweeted in November. But Ukrainian Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka said exports had hit nearly double that number per month before the war.
Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said the number had hit 7 million tons by early December, providing a “very welcome boost” to the economy, The Hill reported. Goncharenko compared the Black Sea progress to the highly-praised counteroffensive in late 2022.
“In addition to forcing Putin’s fleet to retreat, Ukraine’s attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea have also significantly weakened the logistical networks that are essential for the resupply of the Russian army in southern Ukraine,” Goncharenko wrote for the Atlantic Council.
Part of the success came from Britain and France’s decision to supply Ukraine with Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles and SCALP cruise missiles that “dramatically enhanced Ukraine’s ability to strike targets in Crimea.”
Ukraine also utilized naval drones, produced domestically, which Kyiv demonstrated in successful attacks on a Russian warship and oil tanker near Novorossiysk, which serves as a major hub for Russian energy exports.
The Atlantic Council, in a separate analysis, argued that much of the wartime fatigue among Western allies rests with a lack of progress in the ground conflict, where Ukraine has failed to change the deadlock throughout much of 2023.
Instead, the council suggests paying attention to gains made in the Black Sea, where, “despite having no warships of its own, Ukraine managed to force Putin’s fleet to retreat from Crimea and succeeded in breaking the Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.”
“This remarkable Ukrainian progress may now offer a blueprint for a more general victory over Russia,” Peter Dickinson, chief Editor of Business Ukraine Magazine for the Eurasia Center, wrote.