Odessa port hit by Russian missiles after grain deal, Ukraine says


Russian missiles struck the Black Sea port of Odessa on Saturday, Ukrainian officials said, jeopardizing an agreement reached between Moscow and Kyiv a day earlier. to enable the shipment of millions of tonnes of trapped grain and alleviate a global food crisis.

Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said two Kalibr cruise missiles hit port infrastructure, but not grain silos in Odessa, one of the country’s largest and most important seaside trading cities .

Air raid warnings sounded around 11 a.m. with sounds of explosions echoing throughout the city. The army’s southern command reported no casualties. He said air defense systems shot down two more missiles in the attack, which the US ambassador to Ukraine called “outrageous”.

Strike threatens a deal that diplomats had hailed less than 24 hours earlier as a breakthrough after months of negotiations. Friday’s agreement, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, would help lift the Black Sea blockade that has exacerbated hunger around the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

The keystone of the deal is Russia’s promise not to attack Odessa and two other ports involved in the shipments. The deal includes security guarantees for Ukraine and Russia, which agreed “not to undertake attacks on merchant shipping and other civilian vessels and port facilities” related to the initiative.

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Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey said the attack showed the deal with Russia was “not even worth the signed paper”, while a Ukrainian foreign ministry official called it a “spitting in the face” of UN chief and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“This only proves one thing: whatever Russia says and promises, it will find ways not to implement,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, shared an image on Telegram that appeared to show smoke rising from the port. “How will the safety of ships in the port of Odessa be ensured if Russia continues to bombard?” he wrote.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday that Ukrainian officials had told him the strikes had not hampered “the capacity and capability of the docks, which is important.”

“The Russians told us that they had absolutely nothing to do with this attack and were looking into the matter very closely and in detail,” he told reporters in the town of Kayseri. “We are also troubled by this.”

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Natalya Humenyuk, spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Military Command, said a Russian missile hit a pumping station and a fire broke out in the town, Ukraine’s state TV reported. Suspend.

Before the war, now approaching its sixth month, Ukraine was one of the world’s leading grain exporters. But with more than 20 million tonnes stuck in Black Sea ports, the conflict has triggered food shortages and price hikes around the world, and heightened fears of acute hunger in the poorest countries. .

UN officials said the safe passage of the grain and any breaches of the agreement should be resolved by a coordination center in Istanbul run jointly by Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations, but has not yet been implemented.

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Other elements are expected to take weeks to put in place, they said. The document calls for merchant vessels to travel along agreed channels through the Black Sea and involves inspections at Turkish ports of vessels bound for Ukraine to ensure they are not carrying weapons.

Saturday’s attack “will mean that economic operators will be extremely cautious and wait to see several days of military operations suspended before they dare to operate ships in the region”, wrote David Laborde, senior researcher at the International Institute of food policy research. in an email.

This does not mean, however, that the agreement signed on Friday will not hold. “A deal like this will take days or even weeks to implement, so a bumpy start doesn’t mean the end,” Laborde said.

Despite Saturday’s missile strike, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Alexander Kubrakov said his country would continue to prepare to ship agricultural exports and try to unblock its seaports.

Ukraine’s Seaports Authority said in a statement on Saturday that under plans to resume port operations, ships will arrive and depart from specified ports in a caravan, accompanied by a lead ship. The agency has launched a call for applications for ships to join a caravan.

UN chief António Guterres urged Moscow, Kyiv and Ankara to ensure “full implementation” of the commitments they made “on the world stage”, his office said. “These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and alleviate the suffering of millions of needy people around the world,” he said.

US and European officials accused Russia of blocking exports as leverage, while Moscow blamed Western sanctions and downplayed the food crisis. “The Kremlin continues to weaponize food,” US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink said on Saturday.

Dalton Bennett in Odessa, Isabelle Khurshudyan in Dnipro and David L. Stern in Kyiv contributed to this report.

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