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 allowed Ukraine to export grain and other agricultural products from Black Sea ports after the Kremlin claimed it had used the Kyiv corridor to attack ships, fueling concerns about global food insecurity.

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

The Russian Foreign Ministry specifically said that due to the attack, “the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative will no longer be guaranteed and its implementation will be suspended indefinitely starting today.”

Britain has responded to the drone strike allegations, saying Russia is making “false claims of an epic scale”. Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility for the attack.

A video that surfaced on Ukrainian Telegram channels on Saturday showed a naval drone targeting what appeared to be a Russian Admiral Makarov warship. The Makarov reportedly replaced the Russian Navy’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, which was sunk in April by Ukrainian forces using Neptune anti-ship missiles. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the authenticity of this video.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the drone attack was largely repulsed and only a mine sweeper suffered minor damage.

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Moscow and Kyiv signed a grain deal in July, opening Ukrainian Black Sea ports to exports that had been shut down since Russia invaded the country on February 24.

Turkey played a key role in brokering the deal as it sought to raise its diplomatic profile to mediate talks between the warring parties, with close ties to Russia and Ukraine.

As part of the agreement, Ukrainian pilots guided 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 accused the Russian Navy of laying mines off the Ukrainian coast.

The Russian military gave the ships safe passage to Turkey and organized teams with experts from all parties involved to inspect the ships before they left for their destinations. Ships bound for Ukraine are also inspected for weapons, a condition set by Moscow to ensure that the grain corridor is not used to supply Western arms to Ukraine.

According to the United Nations, more than 8 million tons of grain were exported from Ukraine as part of an agreement to lower global food prices.

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

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Negotiations on an extension of the deal had been strained even before the ship attack, as Moscow indicated it might withdraw from the deal after repeated complaints about its implementation.

In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of ​​limiting the deal, saying goods went to the European Union and not to poor countries facing food shortages.

Erdogan echoed Putin’s complaints, adding that he would like to see Russian grain exported as well.

“The fact is that grain exports go to countries that enforce these sanctions [against Moscow] Unnerves Mr Putin. Erdogan also said in the press conference that grain exports should start from Russia. “The grain that comes as part of this grain deal is unfortunately going to rich countries, not poor countries.”

After the bombing of a strategic bridge linking Crimea with Russia in early October, Putin speculated that the grain corridor may have been used by Ukrainian special services. If proven, it would jeopardize the deal, he said.

Putin blames Kiev for attack on strategic Crimea bridge

Later in October, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, lamented that Russian-flagged ships were not being accepted in European ports due to the embargo, and difficulties in obtaining insurance and financing for Russian grain and fertilizer shipments.

Ukraine accused Moscow of not fully implementing the agreement. In a late-night speech 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 that the situation with Ukraine’s food exports is becoming more and more tense and that Moscow is doing everything to slow down the process.

“I believe that with these measures, Russia is deliberately provoking a food crisis that will worsen as it did in the first half of this year,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine last week accused Russia of blocking the full implementation of the agreement, which it said Ukrainian ports had recently been operating at 25-30 percent of their capacity.

“Russia is deliberately preventing 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 about Russia’s plans to destroy the Black Sea grain enterprise,” Kuleba wrote. He called on the world community to “stop Russia’s hunger games and demand once again that it fulfills its obligations.”

The head of the Ukrainian 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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