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In Russian military Tg channels who mocked the "grain deal" from the beginning, there was a recurring theme that Ukraine is exploiting Russian weakness and unpreparedness for confrontation by hauling military supply directly by sea, from Turkey or elsewhere.

One freqeuent variation was that Ukraine is building a Bayraktar assembly plant directly in Odessa to gain advantage of sea shipments of parts. I'm not sure that Bayraktar was still relevant at the time that it was supposed to start production, and not heard about Bayraktar usage in the war for a long time.

Another variation is that generic military supplies, such as tanks, APCs, weapons and ammunition were shipped by sea thanks to essential unblocking of Ukrainian ports following the grain deal.

I would like to know whether it is possible to confirm (or deny?) those accusations now that the (phase I of?) the "grain deal" has terminated. Any Ukrainian politicians bragging how they got shipments via sea? Military industry close to Ukrainian ports apparently getting components via sea? Third party confirmations? Other signs that it did (or did not) happen?

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  • Which version are you asking about? #1 Ukraine shipped in arms via ship, during the grain deal? This is what your title sounds like. Or #2 Ukraine, now that the grain deal is over, is shipping in arms? Re. #1 - wasn't the whole point of the deal to allow mutual inspection of ships, from both parties? So would it not have been Russian incompetence if it happened and was not caught? Aug 23, 2023 at 20:59
  • 1
    I'm asking about #1 during the grain deal. Whose incompetence it is is irrelevant; what's relevant is whether there were violation of terms and conditions, or not.
    – alamar
    Aug 23, 2023 at 21:06
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    Well, it is relevant in that Russian authorities were fully allowed to inspect using phase #1, which makes this whole claim rather questionable. Remember: while you might, somehow, be able to ship arms out, under grain, it would be much harder to ship them in, in empty ships, and not get caught. You ought to know that it is very hard to provide evidence of absence, but this really stretches belief. This really reads like a conspiracy theory question. With however, very understandable motivations in getting the conspiracy started in the first place. Aug 23, 2023 at 21:19
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    You mean like these invisible Russian fertilizer exports? Or these : conference-board.org/pdfdownload.cfm?masterProductID=46347 In the first ten months of 2022, Russian fertilizer exports rose to $16.7 billion, up 70 percent from the same period in 2021. Now, I realize that Russia may have concerns about financial logistics and insurance around the grain deal, but much of it this also sounds like conspiracy theories. Aug 23, 2023 at 21:23
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    If it actually happened, there is no way Ukraine (or any of the countries that might have allegedly sent arms) will publicize it. If it didn't happen, then there is no information in the first place. So almost surely there'll be no public information about it.
    – Allure
    Aug 24, 2023 at 6:24

4 Answers 4

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Difficult to prove something did not happen, but let's take a look at the inspection mechanisms for the grain deal.

Black Sea Grain Initiative | Joint Coordination Centre | United Nations

The Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) was established to monitor the implementation of the Initiative. The Joint Coordination Centre is hosted in Istanbul and includes representatives from Russia, Türkiye, Ukraine and the United Nations. The UN acts also as the Secretariat for the Centre.

Ukrainian vessels guide cargo ships into international waters of the Black Sea, avoiding mined areas. The vessels then proceed towards Istanbul along the agreed maritime humanitarian corridor. Ships heading to and from the Ukrainian ports are inspected by JCC teams comprised of 👉Russian👈, Turkish, Ukrainian and UN inspectors.

So, now which should we believe? That Russians on the inspection teams somehow managed to miss arms in empty incoming vessels? Or that Russian "news sources" are sometimes less than entirely trustworthy? What would be the point anyway??? Western arms are, quite openly, being shipped in via land. Western countries are outbragging each other in how much they are donating.

(If there was some agreed-upon general embargo on arms transfers to Ukraine - like there is with North Korea or Iran - and the West wanted to cheat and secretly supply Ukraine, then this claim would make some sense. It really, really, doesn't here).

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    Exactly, and Ukraine isn't asking for guns. They're asking for HIMARS, tanks, and F-16s, which is a little harder to smuggle on a grain ship.
    – Nelson
    Aug 24, 2023 at 8:23
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During the grain deal all ships have been checked by Russian inspectors so it was not possible. After the deal, Russia stopped and inspected Sukru Okan but also found no weapons. Hence no.

There is no reason to use grain ships to deliver weapons or they components, there are other ways to do this.

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  • The story I read about the boarding of the Turkish ship is that they didn't really search for anything once they found that all crew members were Turkish. Which is more in line with the rather close economic ties that have developed between Russia and Turkey recently. The ship was flying the flag of Palau which is why it was even boarded to begin with arabnews.com/node/2356936/middle-east Aug 24, 2023 at 7:33
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    Yeah, the searched the crew cabins, which is a bit odd since not much can be stashed there marinelog.com/news/… Aug 24, 2023 at 7:39
  • Russian inspectors not getting to search for anything would be a good prerequisite for a find that I would expect.
    – alamar
    Aug 24, 2023 at 8:26
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    It is written "Russian military personnel then boarded the ship to conduct an inspection" and I do not see they were not permitted
    – Stančikas
    Aug 24, 2023 at 13:30
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I'd be very skeptical of this. I've not seen footage from TB2s operating (successfully) in Ukraine nearly a year now. Last footage of this kind I could find was posted in September 2022.

The TB2 factory in Ukraine had been planned before the [2022] war, but presently is said to be planned to open in 2025.

Also, according to one Eurasian Times article (which is a rather low quality source though) Russia might have struck a [secret] deal with Turkey to not supply Ukraine with any new TB2s, as part of the Russia-Turkey gas deal. Publicly that deal only included some deferred payments, but one has to wonder what Russia got in return. (It may have been something else entirely, e.g. another source points that Russia-Turkey trade has doubled last year, suggesting some [Western] sanction bypassing done that way. Exports of machinery and electronic components from Turkey to Russia nearly trippled in the first half of this year too.)

FWTW, the Russian FSB claimed that traces of explosives were found on some of these empty ships headed for Russia to pick up grain (rather than being headed for Ukraine) although after visiting Ukraine. (Apparently the main Russian concern was that Ukrainians would blow up the Kerch Strait bridge that way. But they also alleged by-the-by that the ships thus may have transported explosives to Ukraine, previously.) But that's not much of a smoking gun for several [obvious] reasons, for the main purpose of this question, of arms being smuggled into Ukraine.

Somewhat related, it's been reported by fairly reputable Western journalists that Ukraine has received old stocks of Turkish cluster munitions [co-developed with the US], but Ukrainian and Turkish officials themselves had rejected these reports at the time. (Even Russian officials were publicly somewhat skeptical, with Kremlin spokesman Peskov saying "It is difficult to comment on the credibility of such reports, but we are monitoring them closely.") Meanwhile, the US itself has supplied such ammo to Ukraine, so it's very questionable they or the Turks would have bothered to sneak some through these ships that the Russians would regularly inspect, given that there are alternative land routes through which most Western weapons make their way to Ukraine, which Russia hasn't managed to interdict much.

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(Upgrading my comment to an answer)

It's hard to prove a negative, but the circumstances should be enough to establish a very strong bias towards "no public information can confirm" as the answer. Reason is as follows. One of two things must have happened: either there were clandestine arms shipments to Ukraine ports via the grain deal, or there were not.

  • If there were no such shipments, then the information does not exist, so there can be no public information "confirming" its existence.

  • If there were actually such shipments, then it is not something Ukraine (or any of the countries allegedly sending the weapons) can publicly acknowledge. The reason is that the grain deal is a Big Deal for many countries that buy Ukrainian food, and cutting off this supply can cause a major backlash from these countries. It's absolutely in Ukraine's advantage to blame Russia for the deal's failure. Acknowledging such shipments would make Ukraine the villain, which is a massive PR disaster. The PR disaster is such that even if (if - since even if these clandestine arms shipments are happening, they're not possible to confirm) Russia films themselves stopping a ship and finding weapons on board, Ukraine will probably claim the event was staged.

Maybe in several decades when the war is a distant memory, historians might be able to answer this question definitively.

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  • That "fair and balanced coverage" would be better applied to other subjects than this one. Nordstream perhaps. Supposed limits to Russian fertilizer exports. Not this. First, it's a "Big Deal" for everyone. Including Russia which doesn't want to get blamed for pulling the plug on the grain deal. Russia films themselves stopping a ship. That's irrelevant to the context of this Q - during the grain deal - because those inspections also had UN and Turkey team members, who would not cover up for Ukraine. Last, arms do arrive by land, so why bother risking this "Big Deal" scandal? Aug 24, 2023 at 20:05

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