KYIV — Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa on Saturday, the Ukrainian military said, threatening a deal signed just a day earlier to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports and ease global food shortages caused by the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the strike blatant “barbarism” showing Moscow could not be trusted to implement the deal. However, public broadcaster Suspilne quoted the Ukrainian military as saying the missiles had not caused significant damage and a government minister said preparations continued to restart grain exports from Black Sea ports.
The deal signed on Friday by Moscow and Kyiv and mediated by the United Nations and Turkey was hailed as a breakthrough after nearly five months of punishing fighting since Russia invaded its neighbor. It is seen as crucial to curbing soaring global food prices by allowing grain exports to be shipped from Black Sea ports including Odesa.
The strikes on Odesa drew strong condemnation from the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Britain, Germany and Italy. On Friday, U.N. officials said they hoped the agreement would be operational in a few weeks. Read full story
Turkey’s defense minister said Russian officials told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with the strikes. Neither Russian defense ministry statements nor the military’s evening summary mentioned missile strikes in Odesa. The ministry did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Two Russian Kalibr missiles hit the area of a pumping station at the port; two others were shot down by air defense forces, according to Ukraine’s military. Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuriy Ignat said the missiles were fired from warships in the Black Sea near Crimea.
Suspilne quoted Ukraine’s southern military command as saying the port’s grain storage area was not hit.
“Unfortunately there are wounded. The port’s infrastructure was damaged,” said Odesa region governor Maksym Marchenko.
But Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook that “we continue technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports”.
The strike appeared to violate Friday’s deal, which would allow safe passage in and out of Ukrainian ports.
“If anyone in the world could have said before this that some kind of dialogue with Russia, some kind of agreements, would be necessary, look at what is happening,” Zelensky said in a late-night video.
He vowed to do everything possible to acquire air defense systems able to shoot down missiles like those that hit Odesa.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that “this attack casts serious doubt on the credibility of Russia’s commitment to yesterday’s deal.”
“Russia bears responsibility for deepening the global food crisis and must stop its aggression,” he added.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “unequivocally condemned” the strikes, a spokesperson said, adding full implementation of the deal was imperative.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusai Akar said in a statement: “The Russians told us that they had absolutely nothing to do with this attack … The fact that such an incident took place right after the agreement we made yesterday really worried us.”
Ukraine foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook that “the Russian missile is (Russian President) Vladimir Putin’s spit in the face” of Mr. Guterres and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
Moscow has denied responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for slowing its food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its ports.
A blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea fleet since Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion has trapped tens of millions of tons of grain and stranded many ships.
This has worsened global supply chain bottlenecks. Along with Western sanctions on Russia, it has stoked food and energy price inflation. Russia and Ukraine are major global wheat suppliers and a global food crisis has pushed some 47 million people into “acute hunger,” according to the World Food Programme.
The deal would restore grain shipments from the three reopened ports to pre-war levels of 5 million tons a month, U.N. officials said. — Reuters