First the successful Ukrainian strikes against a Russian warship in Novorossiysk and then an oil tanker in the Kerch strait.
Second, the Jeddah peace talks, between Ukraine, the West and the Global South.
Third, last week the Putin - Erdogan call and comments this morning suggesting that Putin is still set to visit Turkey this month, with the Turks now talking up prospects for a re-initiation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, with similar upbeat comments therein from the Italian foreign minister.
Putting all this together, there is concern that the Ukrainian strikes in the Black Sea against shipping mark a new period of heightened insecurity for shipping - perhaps making the Black Sea a complete no go area. I would be careful about drawing such conclusions. Ukraine’s attack on the two vessels over the weekend appeared carefully calibrated. The first hit was on a Russian naval vessel, the Olenegorsky Gorynak, so a fair target. The second on an oil supply vessel, the Sig, which has also been contracted to support the Russian navy and is sanctioned by the West for oil running to Syria. Kyiv has warned herein that Russian ports on the Black Sea are now fair game, and I think this is something of a quid pro quo for Russian attacks on Ukrainian ports and particularly grain infrastructure. But I think Ukraine would be wary of launching all out attacks on Russian oil vessels in the Black Sea for fear of playing into Russian hands by driving international oil prices higher and then weakening support in both the West and the Global South for its defence against Russia. Rather this was a proverbial shot across Russia’s bow that Ukraine has lots more options. It is a push to get Russia to back off from attacking Ukrainian Black Sea ports, and also those along the Danube and return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
The Jeddah conference seems to have gone well for Ukraine - China and Saudi attending was a big coup, and further showed the isolation of Russia. Russian diplomats had to be content with selfies in North Korea.
Western diplomats suggested good interaction with their Chinese counterparts, on the Ukraine issue, part of a wider reapproachment I think underway between the US and China. This has to be good.
Notable I thought from the Jeddah talks that Kyiv seems to have softened its position around beginning peace talks before all Russian troops leave Ukrainian soil. Barring the still unlikely early Ukrainian liberation of Crimea, I think this was always likely - and remember there was the Antalya process back in March 2022. True the Ukrainian position has since hardened after numerous Russian excesses and war crimes, but Ukraine showed at Jeddah a willingness to compromise which I think will have won it plaudits in the Global South, and particularly with China. Importantly the Jeddah summit laid out clear support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Just a sense here that we might see something come from the Putin visit to Turkey to meet Erdogan, at least on the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which might then build some more substantive peace talks later this year, pending a more definitive outcome to the on-going Ukrainian counteroffensive.
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