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A satellite image shows a closeup of bulk carrier ship loading grain at the port of Sevastopol, Crimea May 19, 2022

A satellite image shows a closeup of bulk carrier ship loading grain at the port of Sevastopol, Crimea May 19, 2022. Picture taken May 19, 2022. Satellite image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

Crimea Shipping Surge Points to Stealing of Ukraine Grain

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July 15, 2022

By Áine Quinn (Bloomberg) —

The Russian-occupied peninsula of Crimea is shipping more than 50 times the volume of food it usually does at this time of year, likely indicating that seized Ukrainian grain is being taken abroad, according to analysts and the Kyiv School of Economics.

The port of Sevastopol shipped about 462,200 tons of agricultural goods such as grains, oilseeds, vegetable oils, pulses and proteins since the beginning of March, according to Geneva-based researcher AgFlow, which compiles and cross-references data based on inspection reports, bills of lading, port lineups and AIS from private sources. Last year, the port shipped about 8,000 tons.

Bumper exports from Sevastopol, which is sanctioned by the European Union and US, are a likely sign of smuggling, according to Maxigrain analyst Elena Neroba, previously based in Ukraine. The entire Crimean peninsula, which Russia occupied in 2014, usually produces between 500,000 and 900,000 tons of wheat a year, mostly for its own consumption.

“This is how Russia exports stolen grain,” Neroba said from London. “The Crimean port is large, closer and all the territory along the way is controlled by Russia.”

Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing grain from occupied regions and exporting it. Last week, Ukraine summoned the Turkish ambassador, citing an “unacceptable situation” after authorities in Turkey released a Russian vessel that Kyiv said was carrying grain seized from the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk.

While Russia denies stealing grain, it has publicly touted the resumption of grain shipments from occupied ports. Occupying authorities in Ukraine said the incident with the Turkish ship had a “geopolitical motive.” Talks over unblocking Ukraine’s ports to allow grain exports were held Wednesday in Turkey.

The Kyiv School of Economics estimates that, as of June, more than 1 million tons of grain and oil crops valued at about $600 million have been taken by Russia or damaged during the war.

“The first signals were in March,” KSE researcher Roman Neyter said. “We assume based on the pace that grain is being smuggled from all occupied regions.”

Most of it, though, is coming from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in southeast Ukraine, he said. Russia has been occupying about 60% of those regions, which are at the heart of the nation’s agriculture industry.

The Kremlin has consistently denied stealing grain from Ukraine. Asked about the data showing exports from Crimea, a Kremlin spokesman said he doubted the data were accurate, without giving any basis for that view.

Eleven wagons of grain were shipped from Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region to Crimea last month, Interfax reported, citing comments from Russia-installed governor Yevhen Balytskyi. In May, two Ukrainian traders said the Russian military confiscated grain and goods in occupied areas.

The grain primarily is going to Russian allies having problems with food security, Neyter said. 

“The evidence is overwhelming,” he said. “We have some ships coming to Crimea and turning off their transponder and disappearing.”

In the past two months, at least five ships have vanished from ship-tracking systems while in the Black Sea, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s mandatory for most cargo ships to ping their locations while sailing.

–With assistance from Sherry Su.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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