Russia said on Saturday it would suspend participation in agricultural exports from Ukrainian ports, in response to an attack on the occupied Black Sea port of Sevastopol that it blamed on the Ukrainian government.
The Ministry of Defense said in a statement published on Telegram that Black Sea Fleet vessels and civilian vessels involved in ensuring the security of the so-called grain corridor had been attacked. As a result, “the Russian side ceases participation in the implementation of agreements on the export of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports,” the statement said.
The move threatens to derail a UN-brokered deal to block Ukraine’s vital grain exports through the Black Sea, which is vital to tackling the global hunger crisis, and comes a day after UN chief António Guterres called on Russia and Ukraine to to renew the contract, which is officially due to expire on November 19.
Officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the UN signed the grain deal in July, freeing millions of tonnes of food that have been bottled in the country since the Russian invasion began in February.
One of the few diplomatic breakthroughs of the war, the agreement helped bring world wheat prices down to pre-war levels, and helped alleviate a global hunger crisis partly caused by the conflict. Ukraine supplied about 10% of the world’s wheat before the Russian invasion.
If shipments of Ukrainian grain are suspended, the suspension is likely to raise world prices for wheat, corn and other important food items.
But the Russian Foreign Ministry said Ukraine’s armed forces were using “humanitarian cover” to carry out large-scale air and sea attacks and, as a result, “Moscow cannot guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea operation and stop its implementation.” starting today for an indefinite period.” It says that appropriate instructions have been given to Russian representatives at the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, which controls the transport of Ukrainian foodstuffs.
A Turkish official said Turkey had not been officially informed of Russia’s decision to withdraw from the deal. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan helped broker the deal.
Oleksandr Kubrakov, Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, said that his country will continue to supply grain to the world. “The world should not be held hostage to Russian whims, hunger cannot be a weapon,” he tweeted.
Russia’s decision to suspend it is also a major blow to Ukraine’s internationally important agricultural industry, which returned to near pre-war grain export levels earlier this month, largely because of the deal. Since the agreement was signed, Ukraine has exported 9.2 million tons of food through safe passage in the Black Sea, according to the United Nations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to withdraw from the deal in recent months, arguing that not enough wheat in Ukraine goes to poorer nations and that not enough Russian food and fertilizer is being exported because of sanctions. About a quarter of the food shipped through the deal went to low-income countries, according to the UN, Ukraine has also sent wheat to crisis-hit nations including Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen under the deal.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said on Saturday: “We have seen reports from the Russian Federation about the suspension of its participation in the Black Sea Operation following an attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet. We are in contact with the Russian authorities on this issue.”
“It is important that all parties refrain from any actions that would jeopardize the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an important humanitarian effort that clearly has a positive impact on access to food for millions of people around the world,” said Dujarric.
Asked how Russia’s decision would affect the operation of the grain corridor, a representative of the Joint Coordination Center referred to Dujarric’s statement.
Ukraine’s foreign minister tweeted: “We have warned of Russian plans to destroy the Black Sea Grain Initiative.” Now Moscow is using a false pretense to block the grain corridor that ensures food security for millions of people. I call on all countries to demand that Russia end its hunger games and recommit.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia earlier this month of deliberately slowing down the passage of ships through the corridor, creating a backlog of more than 170 ships waiting to get through. The tunnel’s capacity is limited by the number of inspectors from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the UN who must check each ship as it enters and leaves the Black Sea.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said nine aerial drones and seven naval drones were involved in Saturday’s attack. He said the airstrikes were repulsed, but a naval bomber, the Ivan Golubets, suffered minor damage, as well as several defensive structures in Yuzhnaya Bay, one of Sevastopol’s harbor bays.
“You could hear explosions coming in from the sea,” said Yevgeni Babalin, a dock worker at the port of Sevastopol. “Admiral Makarov is feared to have been hit by an underwater drone. They fired at him from the ship and from a helicopter.
The Admiral Makarov, a frigate, replaced the Moskva as the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet after the latter was attacked earlier this year.
A broker in Odessa, which arranges cargo from Sevastopol to the Middle East, said the situation at the port was tense as Russian authorities have asked residents to stay indoors.
Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor of Sevastopol, who was stationed in Russia, wrote on his Telegram message channel that the attack caused minimal damage to civilian infrastructure, but city services were put on alert. He urged the city’s residents not to publish videos or information about the attack that could help Ukrainian forces “to understand how our city’s defenses are built.”
Ukrainian officials have not claimed responsibility for previous bombings in Crimea, including a drone attack on the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in August, but have celebrated and vowed to retake the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Crimea has served as a rear base for Moscow’s occupation of territory in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv’s forces are now trying to dislodge Russian forces from parts of the Kherson region.
General Sergei Surovikin, the newly appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, has acknowledged that the Kherson situation is challenging and that “difficult decisions” may be called for, without elaborating.
Russian officials in Kherson began telling residents to leave the city earlier this month in what they said was preparation for a Ukrainian attack. Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian administration in the Kherson region, said on Friday that the evacuation of civilians had been completed.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday accused the British Navy of being responsible for the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline at the end of September. Western governments have determined that explosions caused Nord Stream and a parallel pair of pipelines, Nord Stream 2, to explode. Investigation continues. Some German officials have said they are working under the assumption that Russia was behind the bombings.
said the British Ministry of Defence in a tweet Saturday: “To undercut their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry is resorting to peddling false claims on an epic scale.” This invented story says more about the arguments going on within the Russian government than about the West.
—Alistair MacDonald and Costas Paris contributed to this article.
Write to Ann M. Simmons at email@example.com, Jared Malsin at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Isabel Coles at email@example.com
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8