Russia pauses grain deal after Ukraine attacks warships in Sevastopol
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs separately announced that due to the attack, “it will no longer guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Moscow Grain Initiative and will suspend its implementation from today indefinitely.”
Britain has responded to allegations of drone strikes by saying Russia is making “false claims of epic proportions”. Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility for the attacks.
A video that appeared on Ukrainian Telegram channels on Saturday showed a naval drone targeting what appeared to be the Russian Admiral Makarov frigate. Makarov reportedly replaced the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, which sank in April after Ukrainian forces hit it with Neptune anti-ship missiles. The Washington Post could not independently verify the authenticity of this video.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the drone attacks were mostly repelled, and that only one minesweeper suffered minor damage.
Moscow and Kiev signed a grain deal in July, opening Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to exports, which were halted after Russia invaded the country on February 24.
Turkey played a key role in brokering the deal, as it has close ties to Russia and Ukraine and is seeking to raise its diplomatic profile to mediate negotiations between the warring parties.
As part of the deal, Ukrainian pilots guided ships through the port, which Ukraine had mined earlier in the war to prevent Russia from seizing key ports like Odessa. The United States and Ukraine have also accused the Russian navy of laying mines near the Ukrainian coast.
The ships were then granted safe passage to Turkey by the Russian military, which organized teams with experts from all parties involved to inspect the vessels before they left for their destination. Ships entering Ukraine are also screened for weapons, a requirement imposed by Moscow to ensure the grain corridor is not used to supply Western arms to Ukraine.
More than 8 million tons of grain were exported from Ukraine as part of a deal that has brought down global food prices, according to the United Nations.
“It is vital that all parties refrain from any action that would jeopardize the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a critical humanitarian effort that is clearly having a positive impact on access to food for millions of people around the world,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General – and Antonio Guterres, it is stated in the statement.
Negotiations to extend the agreement were strained even before the attacks on the ships, as Moscow hinted that it might abandon the deal after repeated complaints about its implementation.
In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of limiting the deal, saying the goods were going to the European Union and not to poor countries with severe food shortages.
Erdogan echoed Putin’s complaints, adding that he also wants to export Russian grain.
“The fact that grain shipments go to countries that implement these sanctions [against Moscow] disturbs Mr. Putin. We also want grain deliveries to start from Russia,” Erdogan said at a press conference. “The grain that comes as part of this grain deal, unfortunately, goes to rich countries, not poor countries.”
After an explosion at a strategic bridge linking Crimea and mainland Russia in early October, Putin speculated that the grain corridor may have been used by Ukrainian special services to attack the highly symbolic gateway. If proven, he said, it would jeopardize the agreement.
Later in October, Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said Russian-flagged ships were not being accepted in European ports because of sanctions and complained of difficulties in obtaining insurance and financing for shipments of Russian grain and fertilizer.
Ukraine, in turn, accused Moscow of not fully implementing the agreement. In one of his late-night addresses last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was “deliberately delaying the passage of ships,” creating an artificial backlog of more than 150 vessels.
Zelensky said that the situation with Ukrainian food exports is becoming “more and more tense” and that Moscow is “doing everything to slow down” the process.
“I believe that with these actions, Russia is deliberately encouraging the food crisis so that it becomes as acute as it was in the first half of this year,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine last week also accused Russia of blocking full implementation of the deal, saying Ukrainian ports have been operating at 25-30 percent of capacity lately.
“Russia is deliberately blocking the full implementation of the Grain Initiative,” the country’s infrastructure ministry said at the time.
In a tweet on Saturday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow was using a “false pretext” to stop Ukraine from exporting its grain and other agricultural products.
“We have warned of Russia’s plans to destroy the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” Kuleba wrote. He also called on the world community to “demand that Russia stop its hunger games and rededicate itself to its obligations.”
Ukraine’s presidential administration chief Andriy Yermak said Moscow was involved in “blackmail” using food, energy and nuclear materials, which he described as “primitive”.
David Stern contributed to this report.
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