Tensions in the Black Sea have undergone a significant escalation following Russia’s unilateral withdrawal from a UN grain agreement in July.
Intercepting vessels in international waters and attempting to exert economic control over Ukraine could lead Moscow to ignite a direct conflict with NATO, warned the former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO.
James Stavridis, a former US Admiral who commanded the alliance’s forces in Europe from 2009 to 2013, has warned that the recent maritime escalations, such as the boarding of a Turkish ship on Sunday, might compel Ukraine’s allies to intervene in order to prevent severe damage to Ukraine’s economy.
He told POLITICO: “Russia’s actions in the international waters of the Black Sea create a real risk of escalating this to a war at sea between NATO and the Russian Federation.”
NATO “is not going to provide all the weapons and money for Ukraine, only to watch Russia strangle their economy with an illegal blockade,” he added.
Russia’s defence ministry confirmed on Tuesday that it had fired warning shots before boarding the Şükrü Okan, a cargo ship flying the Palau flag, which the Ukrainian foreign minister identified as Turkish.
Notably, this inspection occurred in the southwestern Black Sea, near the coast of Turkey, a prominent member of NATO.
Stavridis strongly criticised the move, likening it to “piracy,” and highlighted the Kremlin’s intensified efforts to disrupt trade between Ukraine and the broader European region.
He said: “If Russia starts seizing vessels or seeks to scare them away, I think it likely NATO will respond by supporting a humanitarian corridor for shipping.”