Russia on Tuesday issued a veiled warning over the future of grain exports via the Black Sea, after Moscow refused to extend a key agreement to allow safe passage for cargo ships from Ukrainian ports.
The caution came hours after Ukraine said a Russian strike overnight had damaged facilities at the Odesa port in southern Ukraine, a transit hub key to grain pact signed with the UN and Turkey.
“Without appropriate security guarantees, certain risks arise here,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Were a new arrangement to allow for exports “formalised without Russia, then these risks should be taken into account”, Peskov said.
But Peskov put Moscow’s position in starker terms when he said the Ukraine was using the Black Sea export corridor “for combat purposes.”
Russia later told Turkey that the coordination centre overseeing the deal would be disbanded in the wake of Moscow’s exit, and that Moscow was lifting security guarantees in the Black Sea.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan that Russia’s decision to quit the deal meant “the withdrawal” of navigation safety guarantees in the Black Sea and “the dissolution of the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul,” according to a statement.
- Retaliation strike -
Moscow said its strike on Odesa was in retaliation for a Ukrainian attack one day earlier on the Crimea bridge, a key transit artery linking Russia’s mainland to the peninsula annexed by Russian in 2014.
Russian forces struck “facilities where terrorist acts against Russia had been prepared using unmanned boats” similar to the ones said to have been used in the bridge strike, the army said in a statement.
Kyiv’s military earlier said it had “destroyed” six Kalibr missiles and 21 Iran-built attack drones targeted at the Odesa region, but that port facilities were damaged in an assault overnight.
“Unfortunately, the debris of the downed missiles and the blast wave from the downing damaged the port infrastructure facilities and several private homes,” Ukraine’s military southern command said in a statement.
Across the country, Ukraine’s air force said 31 of the 36 drones launched by Russia overnight were destroyed before they reached their targets.
The Odesa region is home to the maritime terminals central to the export deal between Moscow and Kyiv that has enabled the shipment of more than 32 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain over the past year.
Moscow’s invasion last year saw Ukraine’s Black Sea ports blocked by warships until the agreement -- brokered by the UN and Turkey and signed in July 2022 -- allowed critical grain shipments to restart.
The Kremlin said it was exiting the deal on Monday, after months of complaining that elements of the agreement allowing the export of Russian food and fertilisers had not been honoured.
Russia’s decision to quit the grain accord provoked an outraged response from the international community, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warning millions of the world’s poorest would “pay the price”.
The deal has helped the UN World Food Programme bring relief to countries facing critical food shortages such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen.
President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday said Ukraine was nonetheless prepared to keep exporting grain via the Black Sea despite Russia’s exit.
Kyiv’s navy and SBU security service were behind the bridge attack, using seaborne drones to strike the key link between Russia and annexed Crimea, a security service source told AFP.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter