Russia pauses grain deal after Ukraine strikes warships in Sevastopol

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Russia has suspended its participation in a UN-brokered deal allowing Ukraine to export its grain and other agricultural products from Black Sea ports, saying Kyiv used the corridor to attack Kremlin ships, rekindling concerns about global food shortages.

The Russian military has accused Ukrainian forces of drone attacks on “military and civilian” ships near Sevastopol in Crimea in the early hours of Saturday, saying the strikes were carried out “with the participation of British experts”.

Russia’s foreign ministry said separately that as a result of the attack, it “will no longer guarantee the safety of civilian dry bulk vessels participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative and will suspend its implementation indefinitely from today.”

Britain has responded to accusations of drone strikes by saying Russia is making “false claims of an epic scale”. Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility for the attacks.

A video that appeared on Ukrainian Telegram channels on Saturday showed a naval drone targeting the Russian Admiral Makarov frigate. The Makarov reportedly replaced the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship, the Moskva, which sank in April when Ukrainian forces fired Neptune anti-ship missiles at it. The Washington Post could not independently verify the authenticity of this video.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the drone attacks were largely repulsed, with only one mortar causing minor damage.

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Moscow and Kyiv signed the grain deal in July, opening Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to exports that were halted after Russia invaded the country on February 24.

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

As part of the agreement, Ukrainian pilots guided ships through a port that Ukraine had mined earlier in the war to prevent Russia from seizing key ports such as Odessa. The US and Ukraine have also accused the Russian Navy of laying mines near Ukraine’s coast.

The Russian military then allowed the ships to sail safely to Turkey, which assembled teams with experts from all the countries involved to inspect the ships before they left for their destination. Ships bound for Ukraine were also checked for weapons, a condition imposed by Moscow to ensure that the grain corridor was not used to supply Western arms to Ukraine.

According to the United Nations, more than 8 million were exported from Ukraine.

“It is critical that all countries refrain from any action that would threaten the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a critical humanitarian effort that clearly has a positive impact on access to food for millions of people around the world,” said spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement.

Negotiations to extend the agreement had been strained even before the ship attacks, as Moscow indicated it might withdraw from the deal after repeated complaints about its implementation.

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In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of ​​curbing the deal, saying the goods were going to the European Union instead of poor countries with severe food shortages.

Erdogan echoed Putin’s complaints and added that he wanted Russian grain to be exported as well.

“The fact that grain shipments go to countries that implement these sanctions [against Moscow] obstructing Mr. Putin. We also want grain shipments to start from Russia,” RT Erdogan said at the press conference. “The grain that is part of this grain deal unfortunately goes to rich countries, not poor countries.

After the explosion on the strategic bridge connecting Crimea with mainland Russia in early October, Putin speculated that the grain corridor could have been used by Ukrainian special services to attack the highly symbolic gate. If proven, he suggested, it would jeopardize the deal.

Putin accuses Kiev of attacking a strategic bridge in Crimea

Later in October, Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said that Russian-flagged ships had not been admitted to European ports because of sanctions and lamented the difficulty of insuring and financing shipments of Russian grain and fertilizer.

Ukraine, in turn, accused Moscow of not fully implementing the agreement. In one of his nightly speeches last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was “deliberately delaying the passage of ships” by creating an artificial backlog of more than 150 ships.

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Zelensky said the situation with Ukraine’s food exports was becoming “more and more tense” and that Moscow was “doing everything to slow down” the process.

“I think that with these actions, Russia is deliberately fueling the food crisis so that it becomes as acute 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 agreement, saying that Ukrainian ports have recently been operating at 25-30 percent capacity.

“Russia is deliberately blocking the full implementation of the Grain Initiative,” the country’s infrastructure ministry said at the time.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said on Twitter on Saturday that Moscow was using a “false pretext” to prevent Ukraine from exporting its grain and other agricultural products.

“We warned about Russia’s plans to derail the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” Kuleba wrote. He also called on the world community to “demand that Russia end the hunger games and recommit to its commitments.”

Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, said Moscow was engaged in “blackmail” using food, energy and nuclear materials, which he described as “primitive”.

David Stern contributed to this report.

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