Russia pauses grain deal after Ukraine strikes warships in Sevastopol

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Russia has suspended its participation in a UN-brokered deal that allows Ukraine to export grain and other agricultural products from Black Sea ports after claims that Kyiv used the corridor to attack Kremlin ships, reviving fears of global food insecurity.

The Russian military has accused Ukrainian forces of using drones to attack a “dual-use” vessel near Sevastopol in Crimea early Saturday, claiming the attack was carried out “with the participation of British experts.”

Russia’s foreign ministry separately said that because of the attack, it would “no longer guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Grains Initiative and will suspend its implementation indefinitely from today.”

The UK’s response to the drone attack allegations is that Russia is making “massive false claims”. Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility for the attack.

A video on the Ukrainian Telegraph channel on Saturday showed a navy drone targeting what appeared to be a frigate of Russian Admiral Makarov. The Makarov reportedly replaced the flagship Moskva of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, which sank in April after Ukrainian forces were hit with a Neptune anti-ship missile. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the drone attack was largely repelled and only one minesweeper suffered minor damage.

Moscow and Kyiv signed a grain deal in July, opening up exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which had been halted after Russia invaded the country on February 24.

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Turkey played a key role in brokering the deal because it has close ties to Russia and Ukraine and has sought to raise its diplomatic profile to mediate negotiations between the warring sides.

As part of the deal, Ukrainian pilots guided ships through the port, which Ukraine had mined early in the war to prevent Russia from occupying key ports such as Odessa. The United States and Ukraine also accused the Russian navy of laying mines off the Ukrainian coast.

The Russian military then let the ships pass safely and headed for Turkey, where a team of experts from various parties was organized to inspect the ships before they set off for their destination. Ships entering Ukraine were also inspected for weapons, and Moscow set a condition to ensure the food corridor was not used to supply Ukraine with Western weapons.

According to the United Nations, Ukraine exported more than 8 million tonnes of grains as part of a deal that brought down global food prices.

“It is critical that all parties refrain from any action that would jeopardize the Black Sea Grains Initiative, an important humanitarian effort that has clearly had a positive impact on food access for millions of people around the world,” the statement said. Stéphane Dujarric, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement.

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Negotiations over an extension of the deal were tense even before the ship attack, as Moscow said it could pull out of 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 destined for the European Union rather than to poor countries facing severe food shortages.

Erdogan responded to Putin’s complaints, adding that he would also like to see Russian grain exports.

“The fact that food is destined for the countries that imposed these sanctions [against Moscow] Annoying Mr. Putin. We also want to start grain shipments from Russia,” Erdogan told a news conference. “Unfortunately, the grain that is part of this grain deal goes to rich countries, not poor countries. “

Putin speculated that Ukrainian special forces may have used the grain corridor to attack the highly symbolic gateway after the explosion of a strategic bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia in early October. He suggested that, if confirmed, it would jeopardize the agreement.

Putin accuses Kyiv of attacking strategic Crimea bridge

In late October, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, said that because of sanctions, Russian-flagged ships were not accepted in European ports and had difficulty obtaining insurance and financing for Russian grain and fertilizer shipments. felt regret.

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Ukraine, in turn, accused Moscow of not fully implementing the agreement. Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in one of his evening speeches that Russia “deliberately delays the passage of ships”, creating an artificial backlog of more than 150 ships.

Zelensky said the food export situation in Ukraine is “increasingly tense” and Moscow is “doing everything it can to slow” the process.

“I think with these actions, Russia is deliberately inciting the food crisis to become as severe as it was in the first half of this year,” Zelensky said.

Last week, Ukraine also accused Russia of blocking the full implementation of the deal, saying Ukrainian ports had recently been working at 25% to 30% capacity.

“Russia deliberately blocked the full implementation of the food initiative,” the country’s infrastructure ministry said at the time.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said in a Saturday tweet that Moscow was using “false pretenses” to prevent Ukraine from exporting its grain and other agricultural products.

“We have warned Russia of plans to undermine the Black Sea Grains Initiative,” Kuleba wrote. He also called on the international community to “demand that Russia stop its Hunger Games and resume its obligations”.

Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential palace, said Moscow used food, energy and nuclear material for “extortion”, which he described as “primitive”.

David Stern contributed to this report.

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