Moscow announced Monday the “de facto” end of the agreement on the export of Ukrainian cereals, considered crucial for world food, a few hours after a night attack by the Ukrainian army with naval drones against the strategic bridge of Crimea.
“The Black Sea agreement has de facto ended today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that “as soon as the part (of the agreements) concerning Russia is satisfied, Russia will immediately return to the grain agreement”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denounced the obstacles to the export of Russian food and fertilizer products, which was to accompany that of Ukrainian products.
He also ruled on Saturday that “the main objective of the agreement, the delivery of cereals to countries in need, particularly on the African continent” was “not achieved”.
The announcement comes hours before the deal expires at midnight (5 p.m. EDT) in Istanbul.
Signed in July 2022 on the shores of the Bosphorus and already renewed twice, the agreement allowing Ukraine to export its cereals by the Black Sea has made it possible, over the past year, to export nearly 33 million tonnes grain from Ukrainian ports, despite the conflict.
Turkey, Ukraine and the UN have been notified of the Kremlin’s decision, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that kyiv was ready to continue its grain exports via the Black Sea. “Even without Russia, everything must be done so that we can use this corridor [pour les exportations] in the Black Sea. We are not afraid, ”he said, according to comments shared by his spokesperson Serguiï Nykyforov on Facebook.
Despite the Kremlin’s announcement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he was convinced that his “friend Mr. Putin wants to pursue the agreement” allowing the export of grain from Ukraine to the Black Sea.
In a tweet, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, “strongly” condemned Moscow’s “cynical” decision “despite the efforts of the United Nations and Turkey”, stressing that “the European Union is strives to ensure food security for the world’s vulnerable populations”.
Berlin, for its part, called on “Russia to make the extension of the agreement possible” and “not to bear the consequences of this conflict [ukrainien] to the world’s poorest.
Deeming the Kremlin’s announcement “very disappointing”, London estimated that “if Russia does not renew the agreement, it will deprive millions of people of vital access to cereals”, while indicating that “the discussions” will continue.
The Kremlin’s announcement comes hours after a Ukrainian naval drone attack hit the Crimean Bridge, linking Russia with the annexed Crimean peninsula in 2014, and killed two civilians.
The Kremlin spokesperson, however, assured that the decision not to renew the agreement and the attack were not “linked”, explaining that “even before this attack, this was President Putin’s position”. .
The attack on the Crimean bridge caused significant damage to the road section of the bridge, which is used in particular to transport military equipment to the Russian army fighting in Ukraine.
It was carried out by the Ukrainian special services and naval forces using “naval drones”, a source in the Ukrainian security services (SBU) told AFP on Monday.
The Russian Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said in a statement that it took place at 3:05 a.m. and confirmed that it was carried out by “naval surface drones”.
Two civilians, a man and a woman who were driving, were killed there and their daughter injured, the Russian Investigative Committee said on Monday.
On Telegram, the Crimea-24 public television channel posted a video of the bridge showing a partially collapsed portion of its road section.
The 18-kilometre-long concrete bridge, built at great expense on the orders of Vladimir Putin and inaugurated in 2018, consists of two parallel structures, one reserved for road traffic and the other for rail traffic.
The railway section of the bridge was not damaged and traffic resumed there in the morning, Crimean authorities said. Ferry services to cross this arm of the sea have also resumed, motorists wanting to cross the strait being called upon to use them.
The viaduct, which spans the Kerch Strait, had already been damaged on October 8 by a powerful explosion attributed by the Russian authorities to a truck booby-trapped by the Ukrainian secret services. It was then returned to service.
Last chance maneuvers
Russian Senate Speaker Sergei Mironov said Moscow should retaliate by attacking Ukrainian infrastructure and stopping negotiations on the grain deal.
“That’s what we need to do, not discuss a grain deal that helps Kyiv rulers and their Western masters line their pockets,” he said.
Silence and discretion surrounded all weekend the last-ditch maneuvers led by Turkey and the UN to convince Moscow to extend the grain agreement.
According to official data from the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) overseeing the deal in Istanbul, China and Turkey are the primary beneficiaries of the shipments, along with developed economies.
But thanks to the agreement, the World Food Program (WFP) was able to relieve a dozen countries in critical situation such as Afghanistan, Sudan or Yemen.