Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday accused Russia of “deliberately” targeting infrastructure used for the export of Ukrainian agricultural products, days after the expiry of a crucial agreement on the subject.
After a second consecutive night of Russian strikes on Odessa, a strategic port on the Black Sea, the Ukrainian president accused Russian troops of “deliberately targeting the infrastructure of the grain agreement”, thanks to which Ukraine could export its crucial production for world food.
According to the Ministry responsible for the Reconstruction of Ukraine, “the grain terminals and port infrastructure” of the ports of Odessa and Chornomorsk were attacked, “the silos and docks of the port of Odessa” having been damaged in particular.
Sixty thousand tons of grain, which should have already been exported under the agreement but were waiting in the port of Chornomorsk, were notably destroyed, deplored the Ukrainian Minister of Agriculture, Mykola Solsky.
The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office considered it to be “the biggest Russian attack” on the Odessa region. It left at least 12 injured, said its governor, Oleg Kiper.
According to Kiev, Kalibr cruise missiles, Shahed explosive drones, but also Onyx and Kh-22 anti-ship missiles, more rarely used by Moscow, were sent, mainly to the Odessa region.
Berlin and Paris have condemned the attacks, French diplomacy judging that Moscow poses “an irresponsible risk to world food security” and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, asserting that the Russian bombings “hit the poorest in the world”.
The Russian army, for its part, claims to have targeted “military industrial sites, fuel infrastructure and ammunition depots of the Ukrainian army”, unrelated to grain exports.
Suspicions in the Black Sea
The removal of the corridor for Ukrainian grain exports and the intensification of the attacks have in any case already pushed up grain prices, with the prices of corn and wheat rising by 5% in two days. However, they are still far from the spring 2022 peaks, after the start of the Russian invasion.
The Kremlin warned on Tuesday of new “risks” in the Black Sea after the suspension of the grain agreement, which allowed the safe transport of Ukrainian agricultural products, despite the conflict and the blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian navy.
The next day, Russia insisted that it would consider ships en route to Ukraine as of Thursday as “potential military vessels” and the countries whose flag they fly as parties to the conflict.
Moscow has refused to maintain this agreement, signed in July 2022 under the aegis of the United Nations and Turkey and extended since several times, denouncing obstacles to the trade in fertilizers and Russian food products.
In one year, the agreement has enabled nearly 33 million tonnes of cereals to leave Ukrainian ports, helping to stabilize world food prices and ward off the risk of shortages.
In an interview with AFP, a close adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, Mykhaïlo Podoliak, called for the creation of “military patrols” under UN mandate in the Black Sea so that cargo ships continue to export Ukrainian cereals.
At the same time, five countries located not far from Ukraine – Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania – have signed a declaration asking for the extension beyond September 15 of their restrictions on imports of Ukrainian cereals, considering that their influx following the lifting of customs duties by the EU, in May 2022, threatens their own farmers.
Fire in Crimea
In eastern Crimea, a fire on military ground was still raging on Wednesday. According to the Russian governor of this annexed peninsula, Sergei Aksionov, he caused the evacuation of “residents of four adjacent localities”, more than 2000 people.
Two Russian online media, Mash and Baza, close to the Russian security services, reported in the morning that detonations had been audible in the area for several hours and broadcast videos on this case.
Kiev remains silent and Russian authorities have not confirmed the explosion of munitions, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Vladimir Putin was kept “informed” about the fire.
Since the start of the conflict, Ukraine has regularly carried out attacks on Crimea, a region which serves as a rear base for Russian troops in their offensive in Ukraine.
On Monday, the Kerch Bridge, an important road and rail infrastructure linking this peninsula to Russia, had already been hit by a Ukrainian attack which damaged it for the second time in ten months.
On the front, the fighting is concentrated in eastern Ukraine, where the two armies face each other. Near Kupyansk, in the northeast, Russia seems to have gone back on the offensive and assured that it had advanced another kilometer.
In addition, the South African presidency announced on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not take part in the summit of the Brics (South Africa, Brazil, China, India and Russia) scheduled for the end of August in Johannesburg, ending several months of speculation on the subject.