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 allows Ukraine to export its grain and other agricultural products to Black Sea ports, saying Kiev has used the corridor to attack Kremlin ships.

The Russian military has accused Ukrainian forces of using drones to attack “military and civilian” ships near Sevastopol in Crimea, an attack it says was carried out with the cooperation of British experts.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said separately that the attack would no longer guarantee the safety of civilian cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Crops Program and would suspend its implementation indefinitely from today.

Britain responded that Russia was making false claims on a micro-scale. Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility for the attack.

A video that emerged on Ukrainian Telegram channels on Saturday showed a naval drone targeting a Russian Admiral Makarov frigate. The Makarov reportedly replaced the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet, which was sunk in April. The Washington Post could not independently verify the authenticity of this video.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the drone attack was largely repulsed, with only a deminer suffering minor injuries.

Moscow and Kiev signed a deal in July to open Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to export grain, which had been suspended since the Feb. 24 invasion of Russia.

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Turkey played a key role in brokering the deal because of its close ties to Russia and Ukraine, and has sought to raise its diplomatic profile by brokering talks between the warring sides.

As part of the agreement, Ukrainian pilots guided ships through the port, which was mined by Ukraine during the war, preventing Russia from seizing key ports like Odessa. The US and Ukraine have accused the Russian Navy of laying mines off the coast of Ukraine.

The ships were then given safe passage by the Russian military, where a multidisciplinary team of experts was formed to inspect the ships before they left for their destination and set sail for Turkey. Ships bound for Ukraine are also subject to weapons inspections, a condition imposed by Moscow to ensure that the grain corridor is not used to supply Western arms to Ukraine.

Ukraine has exported more than 8 million tonnes of grain as part of a deal to keep global food prices down, the United Nations says.

“It is important to avoid any action that could disrupt the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an important humanitarian effort that will have a positive impact on food access for millions of people around the world,” said spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement.

Negotiations to extend the deal were strained even before the ship attack, 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 ​​restricting the deal, saying goods were going to the European Union and not to poorer countries facing severe shortages.

Erdogan echoed Putin’s complaints and said he would also like to see Russian rice exports.

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

After an explosion in early October on a strategic bridge linking Crimea with mainland Russia, Putin speculated that Ukrainian special services had used the Corridor to attack the highly symbolic entry point. He suggested that if proven, the agreement would be compromised.

Putin blamed Kyiv for the attack on the strategic Crimea bridge.

In late October, Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, expressed concern that Russian-flagged ships were not being accepted in European ports and that he was bemoaning difficulties in obtaining insurance and financing for Russian grain and fertilizer shipments.

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,” adding that it was creating a fake presence of more than 150 ships.

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Zelensky said that the situation with Ukraine’s food exports is getting tougher and that Moscow is doing everything to slow down the process.

“I believe that because of these actions, Russia is deliberately inciting a food crisis, which will intensify in the first half of this year,” Zelensky said.

Last week, Ukraine accused Russia of blocking the full implementation of the deal, saying Ukrainian ports have recently been operating at 25 to 30 percent of their capacity.

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

In a tweet on Saturday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow was using false pretexts to stop Ukraine’s exports of grain and other agricultural products.

“We warned of Russia’s plans to destroy the Black Sea grain program,” Kuleba wrote. “I have called on the world community to call on Russia to stop its hunger games and return to its obligations.

Andriy Yermak, head of the administration of the President of Ukraine, said that Moscow will import food products, He said he was involved in illegal activities using energy and nuclear materials.

David Stern contributed to this report.

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