ODESA, Ukraine – A series of explosions killed off the southern city of Odessa on Saturday, hitting one of the country’s main ports, less than 24 hours after an agreement was signed to stop the transit of millions of tons of grain through the Black Sea routes. to secure.
The strikes threaten to undermine the agreement to facilitate shipments of Ukrainian grain brokered by the United Nations and Turkey before the agreement can even go into effect. The deal was seen as crucial to bolstering global supplies after a sharp drop in Ukrainian grain exports fueled fears of food shortages in poorer countries.
Ukraine’s southern military command said on Saturday that Russian forces had fired four Kalibr cruise missiles at Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port. “Two missiles were shot down by air defense forces, two hit port infrastructure facilities,” it wrote in a statement on its Facebook page.
Officials said it was the first time since the start of the war that the port in Odessa had been targeted.
The condemnation of Ukraine was swift. Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook that with the strikes, Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin had “in the face of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.” spat” after the two “made a huge effort to come to this agreement.”
The deputy spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General denounced the strikes, saying in a statement that full implementation of the agreement was “necessary”.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin. The attack came a day before the Russian foreign minister was due to embark on a tour of Africa, where he is expected to try to blame the West for food shortages.
The blast wave from the rockets hitting the harbor could be felt from miles away, though it was unclear exactly where they hit. The huge harbor stretches for miles along the Black Sea coast of Odessa with towering silos of silver grains clustered in several places.
It was unclear what the strikes were targeting and whether grain infrastructure was affected. Russia may not have technically breached the deal as it has not pledged to attack those parts of Ukraine’s ports not directly used for grain exports, a senior UN official said. If military targets were nearby, Russia may have tried to exploit a loophole.
Still, the damage appeared extensive and Mykola Solskyi, the country’s agriculture minister, said the strikes would affect Ukraine’s grain export efforts.
“If you attack a port, you attack everything,” he said in a telephone interview. “You use a lot of the same infrastructure for oil, for grain. It has an impact on everything – no matter what hits you.”
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 were still in force.
“We understand that we are still at war with Russia,” he said. “Our agreement was with the United Nations and Turkey, not with Russia.”
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said Russian attacks had caused 10 explosions in Odessa and that the attacks on the port had started a fire.
“In this way, Russia is fulfilling its responsibility to ensure safe export of Ukrainian grains,” he wrote on his public channel on the Telegram social media app. “Now not only the West, but also China and other countries that Putin counted on to ease the pressure of sanctions know that you cannot trust Putin at all, not an ounce,” he added.
On Friday, officials of the Biden administration had expressed skepticism that Russia would honor its commitments to allow safe passage of ships through the Black Sea.