Royal Navy ships will not be sent to the Black Sea over Ukraine grain crisis, says defence secretary Ben Wallace

THE defence secretary Ben Wallace has played down the idea of sending Royal Navy ships to secure shipping routes close to Ukraine – but he suggested British surveillance aircraft could be sent to the region.

Mr Wallace addressed the use of Royal Navy ships while speaking at the Nato summit in Madrid this week.

He said that Rivet Joint or P8 Poseidon aircraft could patrol areas of the Black Sea if a deal was done to allow grain ships to leave Ukraine’s blockaded ports.

But he played down the prospect of Royal Navy warships being sent to the Black Sea.

HMS Defender sailed into the Black Sea last year after a Nato operation in the Mediterranean. Credit: LPhot Dan Rosenbaum, HMS Defender

The defence secretary said that if Turkey – which controls access to the sea – allowed in Royal Navy vessels it could also let in Russian reinforcements.

He said: ‘The Turks have got it pretty covered on mine hunting. We know the disposition of the minefields. So I think all of those things are definitely possible.

‘But we’re not going to be sending our ships to the Black Sea because that would mean we would ask the Turks to lift the blockade on foreign warships or warships from other fleets.’

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According to Mr Wallace, the blockade being lifted ‘would benefit the Russians who would be able to resupply or bring in another Moskva’ – a reference to the Black Sea fleet flagship sunk by the Ukrainians.

Mr Wallace said that Ukraine’s ports only had the capacity to shift three tonnes of grain a month and there was a 23-tonne backlog so a limited ceasefire would not have a major impact.

He added: ‘This is first and foremost about getting Ukrainian grain out of Ukraine.

‘It’s not about helping stolen grain, allowing Russian ships with stolen grain out of the Black Sea, because the Ukrainians won’t buy that and they are not going to lift things for that.

‘So we have to see what we could do. Britain’s role in that could be ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), we could help in overwatch, we could help in Rivet Joint, P8s down in the southern part of the Black Sea to protect.’

Last year, Portsmouth-based HMS Defender sailed into the Black Sea weeks after Russia claimed it had ‘expelled’ another Portsmouth-based warship from the Crimean coast.