PARIS — The U.K. and Norway will lead a coalition aimed at helping Ukraine secure its maritime export routes against Russian interference, the British Defence Ministry said Dec. 11.
The long-term goal is to help Ukraine transform its Navy to become more compatible with Western allies and to bolster security in the Black Sea, the ministry said. The U.K. is transferring two minehunter ships to Ukraine as a first step.
“The rebuilding of the Ukrainian Navy has begun,” British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The UK will bring together our allies in a new coalition to give Ukraine the power to rule the waves.”
The United Nations says commodity shipments in the Black Sea continue to face “significant risks” from airstrikes and sea mines, and several cargo and grain ships reportedly hit mines in the area in recent months. Russia’s Black Sea blockade has “significantly” reduced Ukraine’s ability to move exports by sea, and bolstering the country’s ability to counter the threat of sea mines will help restore maritime trade, according to the U.K.
“Together, we will strengthen the Ukrainian navy, safeguard maritime transportation routes, and secure freedom of navigation,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a post on X. “Building on Ukraine’s 2023 victory in the battle for the Black Sea, we will keep Russian terror away from the region and ensure that Ukrainian food exports keep contributing to global food security.”
Britain is transferring two Royal Navy Sandown-class mine countermeasures vessels to Ukraine, the ministry said. The 52.5-meter (172-foot), 600-ton vessels are built almost entirely from nonmagnetic materials to avoid setting off the sensitive weapons. The Royal Navy still has three of the vessels in active service.
The Dutch government in March promised Ukraine two minehunter ships of the Alkmaar class, to be transferred once the Royal Netherlands Navy receives replacement vessels, expected in 2025.
Access to the Black Sea is regulated by the Montreux Convention of 1936, and Turkey can refuse entry to warships of belligerent countries.
“Turkey controls warship access to the Black Sea and so it will be on the U.K. and others to negotiate directly with them,” Ed Arnold, a defense analyst covering European security at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, wrote in an email. “Prior to their deployment it’s likely that training and familiarization will happen outside of the Black Sea, so there is time.”
The ships are already in Ukrainian service, and the fact that they’re outside the Black Sea means they will be able to train alongside NATO allies, the British Defence Ministry told Defense News.
Beyond the development of a maritime force, the new coalition led by the U.K. and Norway will work with Ukraine’s Navy and Defence Ministry to develop capabilities, including a Marine Corps and river-patrol craft to defend coastal and inland waterways.
Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.