Ukraine accused Russia of firing rockets at the key export port of Odessa on Saturday, a day after Moscow signed an agreement allowing Kyiv to resume grain exports in a bid to alleviate a growing global food crisis.
Two Kalibr cruise missiles hit the port of Odessa, two more were shot down by Ukrainian air defense systems, said Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the Southern Military Command of Ukraine.
Videos posted on social media show a large plume of smoke rising from the port. Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Oleksiy Goncharenko wrote in the Telegram messenger that at least six explosions were heard, the number of injured was not specified.
On Friday, Russian Defense Minister signed a deal through the mediation of the UN and Turkey, who agreed to allow Kyiv to export millions of tons of grain from its Black Sea ports.
The Russian navy has blocked Ukraine’s maritime trade routes, launched missile attacks on its ports and grain storage infrastructure, and attacked civilian grain carriers after President Vladimir Putin ordered full-scale invasion of Ukraine at the end of February.
Ukraine said Saturday’s strikes broke Russia’s promise not to attack its grain export infrastructure and questioned the viability of Friday’s deal.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said that Russia “will bear full responsibility for the deepening of the global food crisis” if it does not fulfill its promises not to attack the port. He accused Putin of “spitting.”[ting] represented by UN Secretary General António Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who acted as mediators in the negotiations.
“Yesterday, the export of grain by sea was agreed, and today the Russians are hitting the port of Odessa. This is the Russian diplomatic dichotomy,” Andriy Yermak, the head of the administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on Twitter.
Zelensky told a visiting US congressional delegation that the attack “proves only one thing: whatever Russia says or promises, it will find ways not to carry it out,” according to its website.
The deal, described by Guterres as a “beacon of hope”, was the first major agreement reached between the two sides in the five-month conflict.
The blockade cut off Ukraine’s most important economic lifeline and left about 22 million tons of wheat, corn and other grains in the silos, with a devastating impact on the Ukrainian economy. world food prices and the level of poverty.
According to the World Food Programme, 47 million people, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, are at risk of acute hunger due to conflict.
Guterres’ office issued a statement saying it “unequivocally condemns” the strikes, without directly blaming Russia.
“Yesterday, all parties assumed clear commitments on the world stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to world markets,” the message says.
“These products are essential to overcome the global food crisis and alleviate the suffering of millions of people in need around the world. Full implementation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey is mandatory.”
Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defense minister, said his Ukrainian counterpart told him that one Russian missile had hit a granary at the port, but the handling facilities had not been damaged and activities at the port were continuing. He also said Russian officials denied they had anything to do with the attack.
“The fact that this incident took place immediately after we agreed yesterday on the shipment of grain, we were very worried, and we are concerned about it. However, we continue to fulfill our obligations under the agreement,” Akar told the state-run Anadolu news agency.
Akar added that representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the UN have already begun working together at a joint coordination center in Turkey, and he hopes that grain shipments will begin quickly.
Billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, who sold Chelsea Football Club in May after being sanctioned by Britain and the EU, attended the signing ceremony and played a key role in the deal, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Abramovich facilitated peace talks between Russia and Ukraine with Putin’s blessing before they collapsed in April.
According to people familiar with the matter, he visited Kyiv several times, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and has since played the role of an intermediary in the exchange of prisoners and opening evacuation routes for civilians.
“He was the key to it all. He is one of the few people close to Putin that Ukrainians talk to,” one of the people said. A Ukrainian official said Abramovich’s role has become more prominent since peace talks stalled in the spring.
“Somehow he is part of a circle dealing with sensitive issues between Ukraine and Russia,” the official said. “He is on the list of trusted people with whom you can negotiate any way.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Abramovich played a decisive role in the negotiations.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, officials in the port city of Nikolaev said they were hit by six Russian shells on Saturday. None of them touched the port infrastructure, and its facilities are not part of an agreement brokered by Turkey.
The Kremlin, the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Abramovich’s spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Additional report by Isla Jean Yakley