War in Ukraine: Implications for the Black Sea

Posted: 22nd June 2022
War in Ukraine: Implications for the Black Sea


Editor’s Note: The following post is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.

This report describes the ongoing situation in the Black Sea in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine. It may be of interest to organizations conducting business in Eastern Europe and in countries bordering the Black Sea, clients in the maritime industry, and government organizations focused on defense, international security, intelligence, or international development. This analysis relies on open sources, primarily from mainstream news media such as Russian and Ukrainian news and maritime industry news. It also relies on analyses by the United Nations and the World Bank, along with NATO and US Department of Defense press statements.

Executive Summary

Russia’s war against Ukraine has significant implications for the Black Sea. Bordering both Russia and Ukraine, the sea has become a volatile setting for naval attacks, drifting maritime mines, and errant missile attacks on commercial vessels. The sea has historically been an important thoroughfare for international commerce, especially energy and food exports from countries bordering the sea, but the war has brought shipping to a standstill, affecting international food prices and food security in impoverished countries. NATO naval activity in the sea, once routine, has paused as NATO strives to avoid escalation. The threat — particularly from mines — to safety of navigation in the sea, the drop in exports of food and energy products, and the geopolitical implications of the war are already having far-reaching effects in terms of stagnant commercial shipping, increased food and energy prices, and a changed naval landscape in this strategic international waterway.

Key Judgments

  • The safety of navigation and commerce in the Black Sea has been severely harmed by Russia’s war against Ukraine, as evidenced by attacks on merchant ships at sea, reports of drifting mines, and a drastic decline in shipping.
  • The decrease in Black Sea maritime traffic will have far-reaching and continuing international effects on food and energy prices.
  • The war is likely to change the region’s naval landscape, with NATO likely decreasing naval operations in the area as long as hostilities continue and likely in the immediate aftermath of the war as well.


Prior to the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Black Sea was a busy commercial thoroughfare — the setting of critical international trade, especially the export of agricultural commodities and fuel. Russia and Ukraine collectively exported more than a quarter of the world’s wheat, and Black Sea nations, including Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, in addition to Ukraine and Russia, exported significant amounts of steel, along with crude and refined oil.

In addition to hosting trade routes for commercial traffic, before the outbreak of war, the Black Sea was a strategic venue for naval activity by the Russian Federation, Black Sea countries, and the US and other NATO member states. The Russian naval base at Sevastopol, on the occupied Crimean peninsula, hosts Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has undergone a decade of modernization and includes at least 6 refurbished Kilo submarines, 3 Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates, and 3 Buyan-M-class corvettes, all equipped with the Kalibr cruise missile system. The guided missile cruiser Moskva was the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship — described by the New York Times as “a symbol of [Russia’s] dominance of the region” — until April 14, 2022, when Ukrainian forces sank it with 2 domestically produced Neptune cruise missiles. To counterbalance Russian claims of dominance, the Black Sea is also the home of 2 annual NATO exercises, Breeze and Sea Breeze, and routine patrols by US and NATO warships.

Since the war began, NATO countries have provided billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine to counter Russian aggression while avoiding direct involvement in the fighting. NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg clarified NATO’s stance on February 28, just days after the conflict began, declaring, “We have no intention of moving into Ukraine, either on the ground or in the air”. However, NATO has consistently affirmed that an attack on a NATO country — which Ukraine is not — will be considered an attack on all NATO countries and will trigger a military response under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. A NATO statement from March 24, 2022, affirms that NATO’s commitment to Article 5 is “iron-clad”.

Editor’s Note: The following post is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.