Russia said Tuesday it carried out attacks on Odesa and Mykolaiv along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast in retaliation for an attack Monday that damaged a key bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula.
Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement it targeted facilities involved in what it called “terrorist acts” carried out by seaborne drones, including a shipyard near Odesa and Ukrainian fuel depots.
Monday’s strike on the bridge killed a civilian couple and injured their child, while damaging the bridge’s road decking and halting traffic, Russia said.
The bridge is a major military supply route supporting Russian forces in their invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military said its air defense shot down six Kalibr missiles in addition to 21 drones over Odesa, but that related debris and blast waves caused the damage on the ground.
Ukraine said it also shot down drones over the Mykolaiv region with the military intercepting 31 of 36 total drones across the country.
The Odesa region is the site of multiple ports that were part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain to the world market.
After Russia said Monday it was ending its participation in the agreement that allowed safe passage of the exports past Russian warships in the Black Sea, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed that Ukraine could continue the effort with the United Nations and Turkey, jointly ensuring “the operation of the food corridor and the inspection of vessels.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned Tuesday that such an arrangement would not be safe without Russia’s participation.
“Without appropriate security guarantees, certain risks arise here. If (a future agreement) is formalized without Russia, then these risks should be taken into account,” Peskov said.
The final ship to depart Ukraine through the maritime corridor left the port of Odesa on Sunday and arrived in Istanbul on Monday.
The U.N. and Turkey brokered the Black Sea Grain Initiative last year amid a global food crisis, seeking to facilitate exports that were blocked in Russia’s war against Ukraine. The grain exports helped to stabilize global commodity prices, which had surged after Russia’s invasion, jeopardizing the capacity of poorer countries to import food.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that the Black Sea deal has provided “a lifeline for global food security and a beacon of hope in a troubled world.”
He noted that the deal has helped reduce food prices by more than 23% since March 2022.
“Today’s decision by the Russian Federation will strike a blow to people in need everywhere,” Guterres said.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that Russia is “weaponizing food” and should come back to the deal.
“I hope that every country is watching this very closely,” he said. “They will see that Russia is responsible for denying food to people who desperately need it around the world, and to contribute to rising prices at a time when many countries continue to experience very difficult inflation.”
Understanding the Implications of No Black Sea Grain Deal
Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products.
Ukraine’s agrarian policy minister, Mykola Solsky, told VOA that “Ukrainian exports will be badly affected because shipping grain by sea is the most efficient way to ship grain from Ukraine.”
He said Ukraine “will fight for this grain corridor, and we will use all other methods of export.”
Aside from the Ukrainian grain exports, a parallel memorandum of understanding between Moscow and the U.N. has sought to remove obstacles to the export of Russian grain and fertilizer.
“Unfortunately, the part of these Black Sea agreements concerning Russia has not been implemented so far, so its effect is terminated,” Peskov told reporters Monday. “As soon as the Russian part of the agreements is fulfilled, the Russian side will return to the implementation of this deal, immediately.”
While the West does not sanction food and fertilizer exports, efforts have been made to ease concerns of banks, insurers, shippers and other private sector actors nervous about doing business with Russia.
One of Russia’s main demands has been for its agriculture bank to be reinstated in the SWIFT system of financial transactions. That has not happened, but the U.N. was able to find a work around for it, which it proposed to President Vladimir Putin in a letter last week.
The U.N. said that since the exports began in August 2022, 32.8 million metric tons of food commodities have been exported to 45 countries.