A satellite image shows a view of a ship loading grain, in Sevastopol, Crimea June 12, 2022. Picture taken June 12, 2022. Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. DO NOT OBSCURE LOGO.

Since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression, the Ukrainian grain trade via the Black Sea ports has come to a standstill. Russia is suspected of stealing tons of grain from Ukraine and selling some of it to other countries. For example to the close partner Syria, but also to the NATO member country Turkey, as a research by the “Financial Times” revealed.

As a “goodwill gesture,” Russia has now withdrawn from the iconic Snake Island — according to it, to allow Ukraine to resume trade, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Igor said on Thursday. Another message from the same day shows that there is not much to believe in the announcement.

A ship with 7,000 tons of grain on board left the Ukrainian port city of Berdyansk, which was occupied by Russian troops, on Thursday, the Russian administration said. The freighter is on its way “to friendly countries”.

At the end of May, the Russian news agency Tass reported on grain exports from occupied territories to Russia. So far, there has been no evidence that grain stolen from Ukraine was shipped to other countries. The statement from Berdyansk should be proof enough.

In its research, the “Times” suspects several freighters of grain smuggling with a port of departure in Crimea and a port of destination in Syria or Turkey. One such freighter that shows noticeable movements is the Fedor. Within a very short time, the ship was spotted in the port of Sevastopol in Crimea, which Russia has annexed since 2014, and in the Turkish port city south of Istanbul.

Photos by Ukrainian activists and satellite photos by the company Planet Labs would show how the freighter is in the port of Sevastopol and is apparently being loaded with grain. The Turkish buyer assured the “Financial Times” that the freight documents listed Russia as the point of departure for the delivery and not Crimea – i.e. not subject to sanctions.

After unloading her cargo in Bandırma, the Fedor entered the Black Sea through the Bosphorus last Tuesday, according to the ship location portal “Vesselfinder”. A little later the location of the freighter is lost. The port of destination was the Russian port of Kavkaz on the opposite side of the Crimea. It is unclear whether the Fedor has now reached this or is heading for a completely different port.

The “Financial Times” writes that it has been observed several times that freighters suddenly can no longer be located. By switching off the transponder, the route of ships can no longer be traced. The behavior can be observed above all when ships head for the port of Sevastopol in Crimea, reports the “Financial Times”. It is unclear whether this technique was also used by the Fedor.

In addition to turning off transponders and forged documents, there are other ways to disguise the true origin of shiploads, writes the Financial Times. When Ukrainian grain is mixed with Russian grain and shipped out of a port in Russia, “it is very difficult to trace,” a European official told the newspaper.

Another form of concealment is ship-to-ship shipment. A Russian grain exporter told the Financial Times that a certain anchorage off Port Kavkaz harbor has been a popular spot for grain washing for several years.

For this purpose, grain is brought from a ship from the Crimea to Port Kavkaz and loaded onto another ship at sea. The other ship can then indicate the Russian port as the place of origin. Satellite images from Planet Labs would confirm the ship-to-ship shipments at Port Kawkas, the newspaper writes.

The newspaper has identified several ships that delivered grain from Crimea to Turkey in May, it said. All would have indicated Port Kawkas as the port of origin. A Turkish official told the Financial Times that customs officials “performed the necessary checks” and reported that the “declared origin of the cargo was Russia.”

However, the official added that “it is technically very difficult to determine the geographical origin of grain”.