Russian navy changes posture to blockade Ukrainian ports

Following the collapse of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the Russian Black Sea Fleet "has altered its posture" in preparation to enforce a blockade on Ukraine's ports, the U.K. Defense Ministry said in its July 26 intelligence update.

The Russian corvette Sergey Kotov has been deployed to patrol the shipping lane between the Bosphorus and Odesa. The ministry reported that there is a "realistic possibility" that it will join a force that will intercept any commercial cargo ships sailing to Ukrainian ports.

There is now "the potential for the intensity and scope of violence in the area to increase," according to the U.K. intelligence update.

Moscow announced that it would not extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative on July 17. The UN-backed deal, which was brokered in July 2022, allowed Ukraine to export grain through its Black Sea ports.

The Russian Defense Ministry declared on July 19 that, as of July 20, all vessels sailing to Ukrainian ports will be considered "potential carriers of military cargo" and therefore legitimate targets.

Prior to the full-scale invasion, 95 percent of Ukraine’s grain was exported via these ports. Wheat and corn prices have already risen sharply worldwide.

Since July 18, Odesa and the other ports along the coast of the Black Sea have been repeatedly attacked by Russia.

On July 19, Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi reported that Russian attacks had destroyed 60,000 tons of grain in Chornomorsk.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed on July 23 that their strike on Odesa had targeted "facilities where terrorist acts against Russia were being prepared." The attack damaged the city's cathedral and historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ukrainian authorities reported that 19 missiles were used in the attack.

On July 24, Russia used attack drones to strike port infrastructure on the Danube, destroying a hangar used for storing grain. The attack took place in the far southwest of Ukraine, just 200 meters from the border with Romania, a NATO member state.

U.K. intelligence previously reported on July 20 that the Russian Black Sea Fleet will likely play an active role in blocking trade routes, but the blockade will be at risk from Ukrainian surface drones and cruise missiles.

Western partners have so far failed to agree on F-16 training plan for Ukraine

Western partners have not yet agreed on a plan to instruct Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets, according to a Politico article published on July 25, which cites U.S. officials.

So far, no country in the Western fighter jet coalition has publicly committed aircraft to support the training and no final decision on plans for the program has been made, despite hopes that it would start this summer.

At the Vilnius NATO summit earlier in July, Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov signed a memorandum with 11 countries outlining the F-16 training terms for Ukrainian pilots.

"I'm especially grateful to Denmark and the Netherlands for their outstanding leadership in this process," the defense minister said on July 11.

According to Politico's sources, one idea that has been discussed is to send Ukrainian pilots to the U.S. to be trained at an Air National Guard unit in Arizona. The base already trains foreign partners on how to operate F-16s.

The alternative idea is to send U.S. pilots to Europe to train Ukrainian pilots at a European base.

Politico added that Draken International, an aerospace contractor, has recruited retired military pilots to train Ukrainians in a facility being set up in Romania as a regional F-16 training center.

On July 21, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said that Ukraine will receive F-16 fighter jets before the end of the year.

"However, we do not believe that F-16s alone can alter the situation on the battlefield," Kirby said, adding that Ukraine has an immediate need for a greater quantity of artillery munitions.

On July 17, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that U.S. President Joe Biden "has given the green light" to allow European countries to launch the much-anticipated training for Ukrainian pilots to use F-16 fighter jets.

However, export restrictions mean that the U.S. still needs to "formally approve the transfer of associated training materials, such as instruction manuals and flight simulators," according to Politico.

Sullivan said that they are awaiting the set-up of the necessary training infrastructure from European partners.

A Politico source added that, although Ukrainian pilots will be flying by the end of 2023, “an actual F-16 with Ukrainian colors” is not likely before the spring of 2024.

Russia does not attack with X-101/555 missiles and accumulates reserves: expert told when a strike is possible

Since June 24, Russia has stopped attacking Ukraine with the X-101/555 air-based cruise missiles.

Military expert Oleksandr Kovalenko told about the reasons.

"This is a strange phenomenon because all other missile types are still actively being used. At the same time, the production of X-101/555 missiles in Russia remains active. All of this raises questions about the reasons for such a prolonged pause, even gap, in using these missiles," he stated.

In his opinion, there are two most realistic options for such actions of the Russian Federation: accumulating a stockpile of missiles before the Independence Day of Ukraine or before the heating season for another wave of energy terror.

"Regarding the production of X-101/555, Russia manufactures around 35-40 missiles per month. So, today, they have increased their stockpile by 40 units just through production. If we talk about the terror on Ukraine's Independence Day, they would have accumulated no less than 80 missiles by that time," explained Kovalenko.

At the same time, this potential can be at least 160 missiles during the heating season. Such a number can allow Russia to launch up to three massive missile strikes or extend strikes with limited ammunition for a month or more, depending on the frequency of the strikes and the amount of ammo used.

"I don't see any other reasons for this pause, only preparation for terror," the expert stated.

The expert emphasized that it would be appropriate for Ukraine's partners to provide the country with short, medium, and long-range missile defense systems within the next month or at most three months to prevent future waves of terror.

Ukraine's Air Force names one of the targets of Russian missile attack

Russian cruise missiles that were launched on Ukraine on Wednesday evening, in particular, targeted Starokostiantyniv, Khmelnytskyi Oblast.

According to Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, a military airfield in Starokostiantyniv hosts Ukrainian Su-24M tactical bombers. These aircraft serve as carriers of the Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

Ihnat said the missiles were fired from the Caspian Sea and flew into Ukraine from the southeast, then their movement went as follows:

- first, the missiles were directed at Kharkiv Oblast, changing course soon after;

- consequently, they flew towards Dnipro;

- then to Kirovohrad Oblast;