Russian missiles hit Odesa after Moscow agrees grain export deal with Kyiv
Ukraine accused Russia of firing missiles at its main grain export port of Odessa on Saturday, a day after Moscow signed a deal allowing Kiev to resume grain exports in a bid to alleviate the growing global food crisis.
Two Kalibr cruise missiles hit the port of Odessa and two others were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses, according to Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s southern military command.
Videos posted on social media showed a large plume of smoke coming from the harbor. Oleksiy Honcharenko, a Ukrainian MP, wrote on the Telegram messaging app that at least six explosions had been heard and an unknown number of people were injured.
On Friday, Russia’s defense minister signed a deal brokered by the UN and Turkey that agreed that Kiev would be allowed to export millions of tons of grain from its Black Sea ports.
The Russian navy has blocked Ukraine’s commercial sea routes, launched missile strikes on its ports and grain storage infrastructure, and attacked civilian grain transport ships since President Vladimir Putin ordered the large-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Ukraine said Saturday’s strikes violated Russia’s promise not to attack its grain export infrastructure and questioned the viability of Friday’s deal.
Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, said Russia “will bear full responsibility for the worsening of the global food crisis” if it does not live up to its promises not to attack the port. He accused Putin of “spit”[ting] in the face” by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who brokered the talks.
“Yesterday the grain export by sea was agreed and today the Russians reach the port of Odessa. That is the Russian diplomatic divide,” Andriy Yermak, head of the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote on Twitter.
The deal, hailed by Guterres as a “beacon of hope,” was the first major agreement between the two sides in the five-month conflict.
The blockade has choked a critical economic lifeline for Ukraine, leaving an estimated 22 million tons of wheat, maize and other grains in silos, devastating global food prices and poverty levels.
According to the World Food Programme, as many as 47 million people, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, are at risk of acute hunger as a result of the conflict.
Guterres’ office said in a statement that it “unequivocally” condemns the strikes, without directly blaming Russia.
“Yesterday, all parties on the world stage made clear commitments to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to world markets,” the statement said.
“These products are desperately needed to tackle 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 imperative.”
Billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, who sold Chelsea Football Club in May after the UK and EU sanctioned him, attended the signing ceremony and played a key role in the deal, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Abramovich helped facilitate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine with Putin’s blessing before they collapsed in April.
He visited Kiev several times, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and has since played a role in mediating prisoner exchanges and opening evacuation routes for civilians, according to people familiar with the case.
“He was the key to everything. He is one of the few people close to Putin that the Ukrainians talk to,” said one of the people. A Ukrainian official said Abramovich’s role had become more prominent since the peace talks in the Ukraine. stalled in spring.
“Somehow he is part of the circle dealing with sensitive issues between Ukraine and Russia,” the official said. “He’s on the list of trusted people who can be with every conversation.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Abramovich had played a crucial role in the talks.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, officials in the port city of Mykolayiv reported being hit by six Russian projectiles on Saturday. None of them touched the port infrastructure and its facilities are not part of the agreement reached in Turkey.
The Kremlin, the Turkish Foreign Ministry, and a spokesman for Abramovich did not immediately respond to requests for comment.