(Bloomberg) -- Germany plans to supply additional air defenses for Ukraine to help protect grain shipments from potential Russian attacks, according to people familiar with the matter.
Berlin will send one extra IRIS-T air defense system and more than a dozen Gepard anti-aircraft guns that will provide cover for consignments heading toward Romania along the country’s southern coast, the people said on condition of anonymity. The weapons should arrive in Ukraine by the end of this year, and further IRIS-T units will follow once they have been built.
Kyiv has been seeking to ramp up deliveries via the Danube River and by land through so-called solidarity lanes since an agreement to allow ships to travel from Black Sea ports through the Bosphorus strait in Turkey collapsed. A small number of vessels are also navigating through strips of water off the coasts of Romania and Bulgaria, defying concerns of Russian attacks.
The people didn’t disclose which specific routes the defenses would be used to cover or whether other capabilities would be included.
German lawmaker Marcus Faber, who is a member of the defense committee in the lower house of parliament, confirmed that Ukraine would receive more IRIS-T systems and Gepard guns, as well as ammunition.
“Ukraine will use those units to better protect its grain ports, for example,” he said, without giving details.
The bulk of Ukraine’s agricultural exports have gone via land, river and road routes since Russia exited the Black Sea initiative in July. The country’s grain exports plunged more than 50% in September.
While Kyiv has unilaterally created a temporary corridor for ships in the Black Sea, so far it’s mostly symbolic as mainstream shipping companies are wary of using it. Twelve ships have passed through it in recent weeks, but that’s very few compared with traffic via the UN- and Turkey-backed corridor, and some smaller ships use routes closer to the coast to reduce risks.
The Gepard guns have a range of 4 kilometers (2.4855 miles) while the more powerful and technically sophisticated IRIS-T units can open up a protective shield with a radius of as much as 40 kilometers. They will be used to protect port infrastructure, the loading of grain onto ships, and departing vessels on the sea.
Russia “isn’t opposing traffic to Ukrainian ports at sea in any way” in the Black Sea at present, said Mikhail Barabanov, an expert at the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defense think tank. Satellite images in recent days also show part of Russia’s Black Sea navy fleet likely moved from its base in Crimea’s Sevastopol to the port of Novorossiysk further east to avoid Ukrainian missile attacks, he said.
The UK Defence Ministry indicated in an intelligence update on Monday that more Russian fleet activities are “likely relocating to Novorossiysk in the face of threats to Sevastopol.”
The UK announced last month that it was providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to monitor Russian activity in the Black Sea, and that RAF aircraft would conduct flights over the area to deter Russia from carrying out strikes against civilian vessels carrying grain.
--With assistance from Áine Quinn and Megan Durisin.
(Updates with Russian analyst in 10th paragraph)
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