In a verbal exchange conveyed in this tweet (the original is in Russian, but it has English subtitles, which seem accurate), the Russian warship announces to a passing civilian ship

the country under whose flag the vessel is moving is considered to be involved in the conflict in Ukraine

Presumably, they don't mean "as a neutral party" when they say "involved in the conflict."

I can't find any other information about this incident besides this tweet. The tweet was posted today (July 28th, 2023).

Edit: there were 2 sources mentioned in the comments (Ukrainska Pravda and Jerusalem Post ), so I'll put them here for reference, but they mostly duplicate what's in the tweet. I don't see any extra information in them about the incident, only more information about the general context of the war.

As of yet (July 30th, 2023), no sources have clarified which flag the ship has been flying.

The 1st question that is asked by the ship's loudspeaker is "nationality?" (in English). The civilian ship's responses are not part of the recording. So it's possible, that the response was used by the the military ship to guess the flag of the civilian ship. The Russian word "национальность" has a broader meaning in Russian than the word "nationality" does in English, so it would be very difficult to try to guess what the civilian ship's response was meant to convey even if the response was recorded.

Generally, when a Russian asks for your "nationality," there is a chance that they are asking for your self-ascribed ethnic denomination (a al "Italian American"). But it's also possible that they are asking for your language-group affiliation (a la "Latino"). Or, they could be asking for the nation-of-origin denomination (based on your place of birth) or they could be asking for your citizenship.

Without hearing the response, it's difficult to know how the civilian ship interpreted it. Again, one could assume things from what follows, but I would rather not assume.

Question: are there any formal statements that Russia has made clarifying which countries, besides Ukraine and Russia, it considers non-neutral in this conflict? Clearly, there is a lot of actions, which have been taken by Russia, which can be said to be de facto demonstrations that Russia considers other countries to be non-neutral. But has there been any formal declaration or designation as of yet?

To clarify, I have to assume that this is not just the same as the list of countries, mentioned in the comments, that the RF has declared unfriendly. The unfriendly designation is a generic one, rather than specific to the context of this war.

I think everyone would be very surprised if some of the countries on that list would be considered a party to this conflict (Hungary or Greece for example), even by Russia's standards, but who knows?

Since Russia's desire to impose a blockade is a new development and it's still in progress, I'd rather assume as little as possible.

  • 4
    Not my DV, but there are multiple questions here, some with obvious answers en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unfriendly_Countries_List BTW, I think Russia still doesn't consider itself officially at war even with Ukraine. Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 8:46
  • 1
    ... all while preparing for some kind of perpetual conflict with the West, if Kremlinologists are to be believed theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/28/… Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 8:52
  • 3
    Voting to close - While I think the question is good, I agree with the others that a little more background would be helpful and it would help to ask these 2-3 questions separately. I suggest you edit your question and remove the 2nd and 3rd question and ask it in a new question here.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 10:40
  • @Fizz "unfriendly" and "involved in the conflict" are entirely different criteria in a war zone. Certainly if Russia tried to board a US civilian vessel outside of the war zone, it would not have a good time even though Russia is now calling the US an unfriendly country.
    – wrod
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 12:39
  • I can't find any other information about this incident besides this tweet. Since (or possibly before) this post some articles were published, and given there are no answers, the post can be edited to refine the question. See Ukrainska Pravda for instance. Other sources say the ship was not identified, so the answer to Q1 is no. That question may be removed.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 15:28

2 Answers 2


This tries to answer Which countries has the RF designated as maritime warring parties in its war against Ukraine? of the question, as well as, for the grain shipment context only:

Question: are there any formal statements that Russia has made clarifying which countries, besides Ukraine and Russia, it considers non-neutral in this conflict?

TLDR: Russia has NO reason to communicate this clearly and benefits from ambiguity.

This is akin to the many questions we've had here (I'll link some below in the comments) that ask Why does't country X provide some clarity to country Y concerning subject Z.

In many cases, being unclear about what is acceptable or not brings uncertainty and has an extra deterrent effect.

Let's look at what Russia has said:

IMO receives Russia's letter saying safety guarantees to be revoked with end of grain deal - Business & Economy - TASS

"The guarantees for the safety of navigation issued by the Russian side will be revoked," according to the letter. Moreover, Russia said that "proactive necessary actions and response measures to neutralize threats posed by the Kiev regime in the area will be taken," the agency added.

Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier on Monday that the Black Sea Initiative will terminate starting July 18, which means revoking navigation safety guarantees, closing the maritime humanitarian corridor, going back to a situation where the northwestern waters of the Black Sea will be temporarily risky to cross and disbanding the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul.


IN BRIEF: Grain deal terminated failing to fulfil obligations to Russia

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that Russia would immediately return to the implementation of the Black Sea agreements as soon as the Russian part of the grain deal is fulfilled

MOSCOW, July 17. /TASS/. The grain deal was terminated due to the fact that part of this initiative concerning Russia has not been implemented yet, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

Kremlin Warns of Ukraine Export ‘Risks’ After Exiting Grain Deal - The Moscow Times

We can’t say how much and which countries are ready to assume these risks,” he (Peskov) told reporters, noting the Ukrainian ports’ “immediate closeness to the area of hostilities.”

As you can see, a study in ambiguity, despite the pronouncements by a Russian Navy captain.

OK, now let's bring in some game theory about who wants what outcomes.

Russia :

good outcomes:
  • Ukraine's economy suffers. There is a time-dependent component to that, as the harvest time for Ukraine is just about now and they need to clear the storage silos to put in this year's coming harvest.

    • About 95 percent of Ukraine wheat is winter wheat, planted in the fall and harvested during July and August of the following year.

  • Neutral parties get fatigued of the sanctions and economic effects and blame "The West" for the mess

  • Russia gets a better deal on its agricultural shipments (the official reason)

bad outcomes:
  • Russia shoots at a ship carrying grain (friendly, neutral or unfriendly)

The West

good outcomes:
  • Russia's good outcomes don't happen
  • Russia gets the blame
bad outcomes:
  • Russia shoots at a Western-affiliated ship carrying grain

Remember, the countries really needing the grain are mostly not "The West". To quote the Economist - The world should not let Vladimir Putin abandon the grain deal:

Instead, the world should press Russia to revive the grain deal—starting at the Russia-Africa summit. African leaders have no interest in higher prices and fragile global food markets. They could berate Mr Putin, and send a grain ship to Ukraine under an African flag.

This is the key part to understand - the risk comes from neutral countries ignoring the blockade.

  • (group 1) The West won't send its ships, as they are part of the "unfriendly countries" and too closely countering Russia's aggression. This is risking a serious escalation.
  • (group 2) Friendly countries, like North Korea or Venezuela, won't be running this blockade. China probably won't, even if it also needs the grain, that would embarrass its no-limits-friend too much.
  • (group 3) The real audience for this threat is neutral countries that need the grain. As well as shipping insurers.

Telling the world who is considered unacceptable - as per this question - would allow neutrals, those most needing the grain - to take the risk. Russia being more specific about what it would do under what conditions - and especially naming neutrals as valid targets - would allow more traction to paint Russia in a negative light, as opposed to their current "Awww, shucks, if it was up to us, of course Good Russia would act to avoid world hunger". And in any case, they can just target civilian infrastructure in Ukrainian ports which they've been doing all along. And they can get a to a good deal of their goals - hurting Ukraine's economy - by inducing sufficient uncertainty to block shipments past the current harvest times, even if they eventually need to give in later.

p.s. Russia has designated "unfriendly countries" but they don't matter all that much here, they're "group 1" and will, for their own reasons, stay well out of the area.

The Government of the Russian Federation has approved on Monday a list of foreign states and territories that commit unfriendly actions against Russia, its companies, and citizens.

The list includes the United States and Canada, the EU states, the UK (including Jersey, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar), Ukraine, Montenegro, Switzerland, Albania, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, North Macedonia, and also Japan, South Korea, Australia, Micronesia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan (considered a territory of China, but ruled by its own administration since 1949).

The countries and territories mentioned in the list imposed or joined the sanctions against Russia after the start of a special military operation of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine.

p.p.s. being in a Western-protected convoy would make neutral ships a lot less neutral

Similarly, neutral merchant vessels “acquire enemy character and may be treated by a belligerent as enemy merchant vessels…” if they operate “directly under enemy control, orders, charter, employment, or direction” or resist “visit and search” (NWP 1-14M, ¶ 7.5.2). Thus, neutral merchant vessels are liable to attack without warning if they actively resist visit, search, or capture; refuse an order to stop; or sail under convoy with enemy warships or military aircraft. Engaging in these activities brings neutral merchant ships within the definition of a military objective, and thus targetable on sight by Russian forces (Newport Manual, § 8.6.5).

p.p.p.s. Apparently one ship has just (August 1st, 2023) called the bluff .

Israeli vessel breaks through Moscow’s Black Sea grain blockade - report


No formal statements so far. Looks like at the time of writing Russia has not declared any countries as in the state of war against them, just because of sailing an empty or grain-loaded civilian cargo ship, to or from Ukrainian ports.

I observe multiple journals of western press and assume such a declaration is very unlikely to stay unnoticed and totally ignored. Israel merchant ship entered the Ukrainian branch of the Danube recently. No, Russia seems not declaring war to Israel in response that would be the news.

Such declaration would be controversy to do. The laws of war are not so foggy and arbitrary. Here there is a definition of the "enemy merchant vessel", so the one taking actions that makes it a valid military target (hence engaged in the military activity). Otherwise merchant vessels are not valid military targets automatically, even if there is a sea blockade ongoing (they should only be captured), so operating them is not the military action.

Diplomats of involved countries are likely to protest against Russia declaring them as in the state of war just on the basis of operating merchant ships with no military, no dual purpose cargo. This is likely why it is not done.

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