- Ukraine said two missiles hit the area of a grain pumping station
- The minister said that Ukraine continues to prepare for the export of grain
- Moscow and Kiev signed a grain export agreement on Friday
- The agreement sought to avert a major food crisis
Kyiv (Reuters) – Russian missiles struck the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa on Saturday, Ukraine’s military said, threatening an agreement signed just a day earlier to scrap a ban on grain exports from Black Sea ports and ease war-induced global food shortages.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the strike as blatant “barbarism” that showed Moscow could not be trusted to implement the deal. However, public radio Suspilne quoted the Ukrainian military as saying that the missiles did not cause significant damage and a government minister said preparations continued for the resumption of grain exports from the Black Sea ports.
The agreement signed by Moscow and Kiev on Friday brokered by the United Nations and Turkey was hailed as a major advance after nearly five months of fighting since Russia invaded its neighbour. It is seen as crucial to curbing the rise in global food prices by allowing grain exports from Black Sea ports including Odessa.
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The strikes on Odessa drew strong condemnation from the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Britain, Germany and Italy. On Friday, UN officials said they hoped the agreement would be in force within a few weeks. Read more
Turkey’s defense minister said Russian officials had told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with the Odessa strikes. Neither the statements of the Russian Defense Ministry nor the army’s evening summary indicated any missile attack in Odessa. The ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Two Russian Kalibr missiles hit the port’s pumping station area, while the air defense forces shot down two others, according to the Ukrainian military. A spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, Yuri Ignat, said the missiles were launched from warships in the Black Sea near Crimea.
Suselny quoted the Southern Military Command of Ukraine as saying that the port’s grain storage area had not been bombed.
“Unfortunately, there are wounded. The port infrastructure has been damaged,” said Odessa region governor Maxim Marchenko.
But Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kobrakov said on Facebook, “We are continuing technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports.”
The strike appeared to violate the terms of Friday’s agreement, which would allow safe passage to and from Ukrainian ports.
“If anyone in the world could say before this that some kind of dialogue with Russia, some kind of agreement, would be necessary, look what happens,” Zelensky said in a late-night video.
He vowed to do everything in his power to obtain air defense systems capable of shooting down missiles like the one that hit Odessa.
“This attack casts doubt on the credibility of Russia’s commitment to yesterday’s agreement,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.
“Russia bears the responsibility for deepening the global food crisis and must stop its aggression,” he added.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “unequivocally condemned” the strikes, adding that full implementation of the agreement was imperative.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement: “The Russians told us they had absolutely nothing to do with this attack… The fact that such an incident occurred after the agreement we made yesterday really worries us.”
Ukraine has mined waters near its ports as part of its war defences, but under the agreement, pilots will guide ships along safe channels. Read more
The Joint Coordination Center (JCC), staffed by members of all four parties to the agreement, will monitor ships transiting the Black Sea to the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey and destined for world markets. All parties agreed on Friday that there would be no attacks on these entities.
Spitting in the face
“The Russian missile is (Russian President) Vladimir Putin’s spit in the face” of Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook.
Moscow has denied responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for slowing its exports of food and fertilizer and Ukraine for mining ports to its ports.
The blockade imposed by the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian ports since the invasion of Moscow on February 24 has led to the seizure of tens of millions of tons of grain and the stranding of many ships.
This has exacerbated global supply chain bottlenecks. Combined with Western sanctions on Russia, this has fueled food and energy price inflation. Russia and Ukraine are major global suppliers of wheat, and the global food crisis has pushed nearly 47 million people into “severe hunger,” according to the World Food Program.
UN officials said the agreement would restore grain shipments from the three reopened ports to pre-war levels of five million tons per month. Read more
Zelensky said it would save $10 billion worth of grain for sale while exporting nearly 20 million tons of last year’s crop.
On Saturday, the US State Department confirmed the recent killing of Americans in Ukraine’s Donbass region, but declined to provide details.
The region’s governor said three people were killed when 13 Russian missiles hit a military air base and railway infrastructure in central Ukraine’s Kirovohrad region.
A Ukrainian official said that Ukraine had hit a bridge in the occupied Kherson region on the Black Sea, targeting a Russian supply route. Russia’s TASS news agency said the deputy head of the Russian-installed regional authority said the bridge was hit but was still operating. Read more
Zelensky said late on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were moving “step by step” to the eastern Kherson region, which Russia occupied at the start of the war.
Putin called the war a “special military operation” and said it was aimed at disarming Ukraine and rooting out dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and the West call this a baseless pretext for an aggressive land grab.
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(Reporting by Natalia Zenets in Kyiv and Tom Balmforth in London and Reuters offices). Written by Jacob Groenholt Pedersen and Matt Spitalnik; Editing by Frances Kerry, Louise Heavens, Grant McCall and David Gregorio
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