Russia pauses grain deal after Ukraine strikes warships in Sevastopol

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Russia has suspended its participation in the UN agreement that allowed Ukraine to export its grain and other agricultural products from Black Sea ports after saying that Kiev used the corridor to attack and Kremlin ships, raising concerns about global food insecurity.

The Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of using drones to attack “military and civilian” ships near Sevastopol in Crimea on Saturday, saying the strikes were carried out “with the participation of British experts”. .

The Russian Foreign Ministry said separately that because of the attack, it “no longer guarantees the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative and will suspend its deployment from today for an indefinite period.”

Britain responded to the accusation of drone strikes by saying Russia was 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 what appeared to be the Russian Admiral Makarov frigate. The Makarov had replaced the flagship of the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, which sank in April after Ukrainian forces hit it with Neptune anti-ship missiles. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the authenticity of this video.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the drone attacks were largely repulsed, and only one minesweeper suffered minor damage.

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Moscow and Kiev signed the grain deal in July, opening Ukrainian Black Sea ports for exports, which 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 raise its diplomatic profile by mediating talks between the warring parties.

As part of the deal, Ukrainian pilots will guide ships through the port, which Ukraine mined earlier in the war to prevent Russia from capturing key ports such as Odessa. The United States and Ukraine have also accused the Russian navy of laying mines near the Ukrainian coast.

The ships were then given safe passage by the Russian military to sail to Turkey, which organized teams with experts from all parties involved to inspect the ships before they went to their destinations. Ships bound for Ukraine were also inspected for weapons, a condition Moscow set to ensure the grain corridor was not used to supply Western weapons to Ukraine.

More than 8 million tonnes of wheat were exported from Ukraine as part of the deal that saw world food prices fall, according to the United Nations.

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

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Negotiations for an extension of the agreement were strained even before the ship attacks, as Moscow indicated it might withdraw from the agreement after repeated complaints about its implementation.

In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of ​​limiting the deal, saying goods would go to the European Union rather than to poor countries with severe food shortages.

Erdogan responded to Putin’s complaints, adding that he also wants to see Russian wheat exported.

“The fact that grain shipments go to countries that implement these sanctions [against Moscow] disturbs Mr. Putin. We also want grain shipments to leave Russia,” Erdogan said at a press conference. “The grain that comes as part of this grain deal unfortunately goes to rich countries, not to poor countries.”

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

Putin blames Kiev for the attack on the strategic bridge in Crimea

Later in October, Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said that ships under the Russian flag are not accepted in European ports because of sanctions and complained of difficulties in obtaining insurance and financing for shipments of Russian grain and fertilizers.

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

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

“I believe that with these actions, Russia is deliberately inciting 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 working at 25-30 percent of their capacity.

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

In a tweet on Saturday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow was using a “false pretext” to prevent Ukraine from exporting its grain and other agricultural products.

“We have warned of Russia’s plans to ruin the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” Kuleba wrote. He also asked the world community to “require Russia to stop its hunger games and recognize its obligations.”

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

David Stern contributed to this report.

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