At the end of June, Russia declared a state of emergency in the port city of Novorossiysk, on the southwestern Black Sea coast.
A 1943 dated landmine washed ashore and presented a serious danger to nearby civilians. As it was too risky to transport the mine elsewhere and defuse it, Russian officials said it would deactivate and destroy it right there on site.
There is a certain irony in this incident. For months, Russia has denied laying mines offshore off the port cities of Ukraine, which it invaded on February 24th. Russia has accused Ukraine of laying mines itself, and blaming Russia for it. Now a mine from the Second World War, probably one of its own, has endangered the lives of its own people in the coastal city.
It was on June 28th that officials released a photo of the deadly explosive on the shoreline of Novorossiysk.
When the state of emergency was instituted, the local governor said it would remain in effect until the landmine was no longer a threat. No word has yet been released on whether the bomb has been neutralized.
Because of its close proximity to the port, all ships have been temporarily halted on nearby waters, meaning trade cannot continue for the moment. This is no doubt exacerbating the already strained efforts to get grain and other goods out of Black Sea ports. Ukrainian officials say that Russia is blockading those shipments, leading to food insecurity in markets that are dependent on Ukraine for wheat. Russia insists, in spite of considerable evidence, that it is not mining the waters of any cities, and not stopping grain shipments from leaving Ukraine.
However, American sources have stated publicly that Russia is, in fact, jeopardizing most exports and mining the waters. A U.S. spokesman said at the end of June that Russian navy crews are indeed “under orders” to block shipments coming from Ukraine.
“We can confirm that despite Russia’s claims that it is not mining the northwestern Black Sea, Russia is actually deploying mines in the (waters) near Ochakiv,” one of Ukraine’s most important ports, along with Odessa.
And now, this Second World War-era mine has complicated matters even further.
It was found near an oil transportation centre, operated by the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. According to a news release published by Tass, a Russian outlet, two out of three hubs that usually send oil from Kazakhstan to various international markets stopped operating.
Because of ongoing discoveries of other mines on the seabed, the Consortium ceased operations on June 15th in order to conduct a thorough survey. This latest landmine has compounded the issue, Russian authorities have said.
Officials insist that Russia’s actions have brought all trade in the area to a complete standstill.
Ninety-five percent of Ukraine’s exports travel through Black Sea ports. As some have pointed out, mining its own ports would be counterproductive for Ukraine, making Russia’s claims that it has done nothing wrong even more incredulous. After all, American sources say, what would Ukraine stand to gain halting its own exports?
“The impact of Russia’s actions cannot be understated,” said one American official. He added that evidence also exists that Russian forces have already mined the Onieper River, as well as Odessa and Ochakiv. Consequently, the waters are virtually impossible to navigate.
Finding surplus ordinance from World War II is not a problem that’s unique to Russia. In 2014, for example, almost 80 German landmines were found on the English Channel island of Sark. Of those, 78 were still live, and capable of doing great damage. Bomb experts removed them and exploded them in a safe, controlled environment.
However, finding them now in the Black Sea complicates things for both Russia and Ukraine. And it begs the question: When the Russia-Ukraine war eventually ends, will modern mines and other ordinances be found scattered around both countries, posing hazards to civilians for decades to come?
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