Odessa, Ukraine – A series of explosions rocked the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa on Saturday, hitting one of the country’s most important ports less than 24 hours after a deal was signed. Ensuring the passage of millions of tons of grain through the Black Sea routes.
The strikes threaten to undermine the deal to facilitate shipment of Ukrainian grain, mediated by the United Nations and Turkey, before the agreement can be implemented. The deal is seen as important to support global supplies after a sharp drop in Ukraine’s grain exports raised fears of food shortages in poor countries.
The military command in southern Ukraine said on Saturday that Russian forces fired four Kalibr cruise missiles at Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port. “The air defense forces shot down two missiles, two of which hit infrastructure facilities in the port,” she wrote in a statement posted on her Facebook page.
Officials said it was the first time since the start of the war that the port of Odessa had been targeted.
The condemnation from Ukraine was swift. Oleg Nikolenko, the country’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on Facebook that with the strikes, Russian President Vladimir Putin “spit in the face” of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After “the two parties made tremendous efforts to reach this agreement.”
A deputy spokesman for the UN Secretary-General condemned the strikes, saying in a statement that full implementation of the agreement was “inevitable”.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin. The attack came a day before the Russian foreign minister is scheduled to start a tour of Africa, where he is expected to try to blame the West for food shortages.
The blast wave from the missiles hitting the port could be felt from miles away, although it was not clear exactly where they hit. The huge port stretches for miles along the Black Sea coast of Odessa with towering silver granaries clustered in several different places.
It was not clear what the strikes were targeting and whether any grain infrastructure had been bombed. Russia may not have technically violated the agreement, as it did not pledge to avoid attacking parts of Ukrainian ports that are not directly used for grain exports, according to a senior UN official. If there were military targets nearby, Russia might have been trying to exploit a loophole.
However, the damage appears to be extensive, and Mykola Solsky, the country’s agriculture minister, said the strikes would affect Ukraine’s efforts to export grain.
“If you attack a port, you attack everything,” he said in a phone interview. You are using much of the same oil and grain infrastructure. It has an effect on everything – it doesn’t matter what it hits.”
Mr. Sulsky added that some of the damaged infrastructure was “important to process all imports”, but said Ukraine would move forward as if the grain deal would still be in effect.
“We understand that we are still at war with Russia,” he said. Our agreement was with the United Nations and Turkey, not with Russia.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, said that the Russian strikes had caused 10 explosions in Odessa, and that the strikes on the port had caused a fire.
“This is how Russia fulfills its responsibility to ensure the safe export of Ukrainian grain,” he wrote on his public channel on the social networking application Telegram. “Now not only the West but China and other countries that Putin has been counting on to relieve pressure from sanctions know that you can’t trust Putin at all, not an ounce,” he added.
On Friday, Biden administration officials expressed doubts that Russia would fulfill its obligations to allow the safe passage of ships through the Black Sea.
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