- Ukraine says two missiles hit a grain pumping station in Odessa
- The minister said that Ukraine continues to prepare for the export of grain
- Moscow and Kiev signed a grain export agreement on Friday
- The deal sought to avoid a major food crisis
- UN Secretary-General condemns missile strikes
Kyiv (Reuters) – Russian missiles struck the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa on Saturday, the Ukrainian military said, threatening an agreement signed the day before to scrap a ban on grain exports from Black Sea ports and ease a war-induced global food shortage.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the strike showed that 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 country’s 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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On Friday, UN officials said they hoped the agreement would be in force within a few weeks, and the strike in Odessa drew strong condemnation from Kyiv, the United Nations and the United States.
Turkey’s defense minister said Russian officials had told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with the Odessa strikes. A Russian Defense Ministry statement on Saturday explaining the progress of the war did not mention any offensive in Odessa. The ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Two Russian Kalibr missiles hit the area of a pumping station in the port of Odessa, while two others were shot down by the air defense forces, according to the Ukrainian Southern Operations Command. Yury Ignat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, said cruise missiles were launched from warships in the Black Sea near Crimea.
Sublin later quoted a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Military Command, Natalia Homenyuk, as saying that the port’s grain storage area had not been bombed. No further losses were recorded.
“We are continuing technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports,” Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kobrakov said on Facebook.
The strike appeared to violate the terms of Friday’s agreement, which would allow safe passage in and out of Odessa and two other Ukrainian ports.
“This only proves one thing: no matter what Russia says and promises, it will find ways not to carry it out,” Zelensky said in a video posted to Telegram.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he “unequivocally condemned” the reported strikes, adding that all parties adhered to the grain export agreement and that full implementation was imperative.
“There is an urgent need for these products to confront the global food crisis and alleviate the suffering of millions of needy people around the world,” company spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.
“During our contacts with Russia, the Russians have told us that they have absolutely nothing to do with this attack, and that they are studying the matter closely and in detail,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement.
“The fact that such an incident happened right after the agreement we made yesterday really worries us,” he added.
Ukraine has mined waters near its ports as part of its war defences, but under the agreement, pilots will direct ships along safe channels in its territorial waters. 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 in Turkey and beyond to global markets.
All parties agreed on Friday that there would be no attacks on these entities and that it would be the JCC’s job to resolve if any prohibited activity was observed.
“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, adding that Ukraine is grateful for the lengths they went to reach the agreement.
The US ambassador to Kyiv, Bridget Brink, wrote on Twitter, “The Kremlin continues to weaponize food. Russia must be held accountable.”
Moscow has denied responsibility for the food crisis, blamed Western sanctions for slowing its exports of food and fertilizer, and blamed Ukraine for mining roads to its Black Sea ports.
Food price hike
The blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian Black Sea fleet since Moscow invaded its neighbor on February 24 has left tens of millions of tons of grain and stranded many ships.
This has exacerbated global supply chain bottlenecks and, combined with Western sanctions on Russia, has fueled food and energy price inflation. Russia and Ukraine are the main global suppliers of wheat, and the war has driven up food prices. The global food crisis has pushed nearly 47 million people into “severe hunger,” according to the World Food Program.
UN officials said Friday that the agreement, expected to be fully operational in a few weeks, will restore grain shipments from the three reopened ports to pre-war levels of five million tons per month. Read more
On Friday, Zelensky said the deal would save $10 billion in grain for sale while exporting nearly 20 million tons of last year’s crop. However, regarding the broader conflict, he told the Wall Street Journal that no ceasefire could be achieved without regaining lost territory.
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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Additional reporting by Tom Palmforth in London and the Reuters office.
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