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Bulker Carrying Stolen Ukrainian Grain Spotted in Syria

ukrainian grain
Ukraine's legitimate grain exports are trapped by a Russian blockade, like this cargo of grain at Odesa (Charles Michel)

Published May 11, 2022 9:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

Working with satellite imaging company Planet Labs, the AP has identified a bulker believed to be carrying stolen Ukrainian grain at the port of Latakia, Syria. 

Ukrainian officials claim that the Russian bulker Matros Pozynich is carrying a cargo of 27,000 tonnes of grain from Russian-occupied territories. According to AIS data provided by Pole Star, the Pozynich made two trips from the Black Sea to Syrian waters in March and April, returning to Syria the second time on May 5. There are extensive gaps in her AIS record during these voyages, indicating periods when her transponder was turned off. 

According to Ukrainian officials, the Pozynich loaded a cargo of stolen Ukrainian grain in Russian-occupied Crimea on her most recent trip to the Black Sea, then attempted to deliver it to a buyer in Alexandria, Egypt. After an appeal by the Ukrainian government, Egyptian authorities refused to allow the vessel to enter, and the Pozynich diverted to a port in Russia-aligned Syria instead. The AP reports that the Pozynich has been identified at a pier in Latakia by satellite imagery. 

According to Ukrainian industry outlet ProAgro, Ukraine's military intelligence believes that stolen Ukrainian grain will be processed through Syria and smuggled out to neighboring Middle Eastern countries. 

The scale of the alleged theft is significant. Ukrainian Deputy Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotskiy said last week that about 440,000 tonnes of grain have been taken from the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. 

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization official Josef Schmidhuber confirmed last week that there is "anecdotal evidence" of Russian forces "looting the storage grain that is available," as well as destroying storage facilities and stealing farm equipment. 

"I personally hear this from many silo owners in the occupied territory. This is outright robbery. And this is happening everywhere in occupied territory," Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskiy asserted last month. 

Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied that Russian forces are extracting grain from Ukraine. In a social media post Wednesday, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin went a step further and falsely accused the United States of carrying out the same offense. "Washington has no confidence that Kiev will win. They have been thinking up ways of recovering their funds, while setting the stage for a famine in Ukraine," Volodin claimed, without providing evidence. The state-owned television channel Rossiya-1 - recently sanctioned by the U.S. government for its role in supporting the invasion - has begun broadcasting similar claims to its Russian audience. 

During a previous round of Russian control in the early 1930s, Soviet forces carried out a systematic program of removing and denying access to food in Ukraine, creating a man-made famine that killed an estimated 3.5 to 5 million people.