Russia attacked Odesa’s sea port with cruise missiles hours after signing a deal to unblock Ukrainian grain exports from three Black Sea ports, including Odesa, that was hailed as a vital step toward alleviating a global food crisis.
Ukrainian officials indicated they’re still moving ahead with the landmark agreement reached Friday to release millions of tons of grain that have been piling up since the invasion, even as the attacks appeared to violate Russia’s commitments as part of the deal.
The loss of exports from one of the biggest wheat, corn and vegetable-oil suppliers has rippled across the world, driving prices to records and leading to warnings of an unprecedented global food crisis.
The deal to facilitate safe shipment corridors was signed after months of talks, in a ceremony presided over by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Yet many analysts and Western officials were skeptical even as the agreement was reached that it could be successfully implemented.
Two Kalibr missiles launched from the Crimea area hit the port’s infrastructure and two were shot down by Ukraine’s air defense, Serhiy Bratchuk, adviser to the head of the Odesa regional military administration, said on Telegram. A large plume of smoke was visible across the city after the strikes.
The attacks drew quick condemnation from the U.S., European Union and UN and a spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said that Russia had breached its promises with the attack. However, Ukrainian Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka indicated Friday’s deal remains in place and Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said that Ukraine is continuing with technical preparations to restart exports.
“It doesn’t mean that all agreements are crossed out, because everyone understood that any agreement has high risks,” Kachka said. “Today’s shelling clearly illustrated all those risks that existed did not disappear — they still exist.”
There were nine ships at Odesa sea port, including four vessels loaded with corn worth $45.6 million, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News. The ships with grain were under the flags of Malta, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Panama, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private information.
Ukraine is under huge pressure to restart grain exports to support its economy, which has been devastated by the war.
The parties committed not to undertake attacks against merchant vessels or port infrastructure engaged in the initiative, according to a copy of the agreement signed by Ukraine posted on Facebook by Andriy Sybiha, deputy chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military’s southern command, said on TV the missiles didn’t hit grain storage at the port.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, one of the export deal’s signatories, told the state-run Anadolu news agency that Russian officials told him that “they are absolutely unrelated to this attack and that they are investigating the matter closely and thoroughly.”
Moscow broke its silence on Sunday, when Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said on Telegram that Kalibr cruise missiles had destroyed a Ukrainian “military infrastructure facility” in Odesa.
On Friday night, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who signed the Istanbul agreement, said in a speech on state-owned TV that Moscow “assumed the obligations which are quite clearly spelled out in this document.”
Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said on Twitter that Russia “must be held to account.” Guterres “unequivocally condemns” the reported strikes, a spokesman said.
“Yesterday, all parties made clear commitments on the global stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets,” Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for Guterres, said in a statement. “Full implementation by the Russian federation, Ukraine and Turkey is imperative.”
It took less than 24 hours for Russia to launch a missile attack on Odesa’s port, breaking its promises and undermining its commitments before the UN and Türkiye under the Istanbul agreement. In case of non-fulfillment, Russia will bear full responsibility for global food crisis.— Oleg Nikolenko (@OlegNikolenko_) July 23, 2022
“Yesterday Ukraine grain export by sea was agreed, and today the Russians are hitting Odesa port,” said Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukraine’s president. Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry, said the missile strike was “Vladimir Putin’s spit into the face” of Guterres and Erdogan, “who put enormous efforts into reaching the accord.”
He called on Turkey and the UN “to ensure that Russia sticks to its commitment within the framework of safe grain corridor functioning.”
The missile strike reinforces concerns about difficulty of chartering and insuring vessels to ship grain in the middle of a war, regardless of the assurances provided.
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