NATO allies and Kyiv officials are convening in Brussels for talks under the new re-branded “NATO-Ukraine Council.” During these discussions, one of the key topics on the agenda, as emphasized by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is the security of Black Sea ports.
Moldova’s Foreign Minister says his government will reduce the number of diplomats Russia can post in Chisinau.
This follows media reports about possible espionage equipment installed on the embassy’s roof, which the minister alluded to.
“We agreed on the need to limit the number of accredited diplomats from Russia, so that there are fewer people trying to destabilize the Republic of Moldova,” Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said at a cabinet meeting.
He said the Russian Embassy had already been informed of the decision.
“For many years we have been the object of hostile Russian action and policies. Many of them were made through the embassy,” he said.
Popescu did not go into details on how many Russian employees might be asked to leave or when.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a weekly briefing that Chisinau’s decision would “not go unanswered.”
Various countries have sent home Russians working on diplomatic visas since the invasion of Ukraine, often accusing them of espionage activities. Russia typically responds by taking similar steps for foreign diplomats in Moscow.
Moldova borders Ukraine and Romania. Part of the territory internationally recognized as Moldova, Transnistria in the east on the border to Ukraine, is an unrecognized breakaway state which several western countries consider to be under effective Russian occupation, although Moscow would dispute this.
Chisinau has often warned during the conflict in Ukraine that it’s concerned that it is also in Moscow’s cross hairs as Russia’s military seeks to advance closer to its borders.
The UK’s Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update on Wednesday that Russia’s Black Sea fleet was positioning itself for a potential blockade of Ukrainian ports.
It said the Sergei Kotov corvette was already patrolling the route between the Bosphorus and the Ukrainian port city of Odesa.
It deployed there following Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal.
“There is a realistic possibility that it will form part of a task group to intercept commercial vessels Russia believes are heading to Ukraine,” the ministry said.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had also said on Tuesday that “the UK believes that Russia may escalate its campaign to destroy Ukraine’s food exports by targeting civilian ships in the Black Sea.”
The British ministry has been publishing daily updates online with intelligence it deems suitable for publication since the outbreak of the war, although Moscow accuses London of doing this for propaganda purposes.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for Wednesday’s meeting between Ukrainian and NATO ambassadors in Brussels to focus on the security of Ukrainian ports and grain exports.
“The world knows that the security of our Black Sea ports is the key to peace and stability in the global food market,” Zelenskyy said.
He tried to stress the importance of Ukrainian shipments, a major agricultural exporter in peace time, for global food prices.
“Now is the time when it is important to reap the harvest of determination, security determination, so that no one will have to end up as a harvester of chaos later on, neither in the countries of Africa or anywhere on other continents,” he said in his video address on Tuesday night.
Russia last week halted participation in a deal brokered by the UN and Turkey that had allowed Ukraine to sell some 33 million tons of grain and food despite the ongoing conflict.
The rolling accord had been renewed, if acrimoniously, several times previously.
But Moscow said last week that it would start viewing all boats docking at Ukrainian ports as potentially carrying military cargo, implying it would not guarantee any safe passage.
Tensions have been rising in the Black Sea in the subsequent days. On Wednesday, Russia reported that one of its patrol ships had repelled an attempted attack from two unmanned boats in the southwestern part of the Black Sea.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Sergei Kotov patrol vessel fired on and destroyed both vehicles before they could get close. The claim could not be immediately verified.