ODESA, Ukraine – A series of explosions rocked the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa on Saturday, hitting one of the country’s most important ports less than 24 hours after an agreement was signed to securing the transit of millions of tons of grain through the Black Sea routes.
The strikes risk undermining the agreement to facilitate the shipment of grain from Ukraine, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, before the deal can even be implemented. The deal was seen as key to bolstering global supplies after a sharp drop in Ukrainian grain exports raised fears of food shortages in poorer countries.
Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said on Saturday that Russian forces fired four Kalibr cruise missiles at Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port. “Two rockets were shot down by the air defense forces, two port infrastructures hit,” he wrote in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
Officials said it was the first time since the start of the war that the port of Odessa had been targeted.
The condemnation of Ukraine was swift. Oleg Nikolenko, the country’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on Facebook that with the strikes, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin “spit in the face” of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. after the two “exerted enormous efforts to reach this agreement”.
The deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general denounced the strikes, saying in a statement that full implementation of the agreement was “imperative”.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin. The attack came a day before Russia’s foreign minister is due to start a tour of Africa, where he is expected to try to blame food shortages on the West.
The shockwave from the missiles hitting the port could be felt miles away, although it’s unclear exactly where they hit. The huge port stretches for miles along the Black Sea coast of Odessa with towering silver grain silos clustered in several different locations.
It was unclear what the strikes were targeting and whether any grain infrastructure had been affected. Russia may not technically have breached the deal because it has not pledged to avoid attacking parts of Ukrainian ports that are not directly used for grain exports, according to a senior official. the UN. If there were military targets nearby, Russia might have tried to exploit a loophole.
Still, the damage appeared to be extensive and Mykola Solskyi, the country’s agriculture minister, said the strikes would affect Ukraine’s efforts to export grain.
“If you attack one port, you attack everything,” he said in a phone interview. “You use a lot of the same infrastructure for oil, for grain. It impacts everything – no matter what you hit.
Mr Solskyi added that some of the destroyed infrastructure was “important for processing all imports”, but said Ukraine would proceed as if the grain deal was still in place.
“We understand that we still have a war with Russia,” he said. “Our deal was with the United Nations and Turkey, not with Russia.”
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said Russian strikes caused 10 explosions in Odessa and strikes on the port caused a fire.
“This is how Russia fulfills its responsibility to ensure the safety of Ukrainian grain exports,” he wrote on his public channel on the social media app Telegram. “Now not only the West but China and other countries that Putin was counting on to relieve sanctions pressure know that you cannot trust Putin at all, not one bit,” he added. .
On Friday, Biden administration officials had expressed skepticism about Russia’s honoring of its commitments to allow safe passage of ships through the Black Sea.