Russia Bombs Ukrainian Ports For Third Night Following End Of Grain Deal

Russia pounded the southern cities of Ukraine with drones and missiles for a third consecutive night on Thursday, keeping Odesa in the Kremlin’s crosshairs following a bitter dispute over the termination of a wartime contract that permitted Ukraine to transport grain via the key Black Sea port.

The strikes took the lives of at least two individuals in Odesa. In the city of Mykolaiv, near the Black Sea, at least 19 individuals, including one child, were severely injured, per reports from Ukraine’s officials. Russia has reportedly targeted Ukraine’s grain export infrastructure since it pledged “retribution” this week for an attack that had impaired and damaged a crucial bridge between the Crimean Peninsula and Russia. Russia’s officials have blamed that strike on Ukraine’s drone boats.

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The strikes on Ukrainian grain export infrastructure have boosted food prices in nations facing hunger. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, said that the end of the deal on Monday would result in added human suffering, with millions of humans affected. The grain deal guaranteed that vessels would not be targeted in attacks when leaving and entering Ukrainian ports, while a separate agreement also facilitated the movement of Russia’s food and fertilizers.

On Thursday, Russia’s military described its strikes on Odesa, a city whose downtown area is defined by UNESCO as one with outstanding universal value, as “retaliatory.” In January 2023, UNESCO featured Odesa’s historic centre on the Endangered World Heritage Sites list. Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s Director-General, described it as the legendary port that has left a mark in cinemas, literature, and arts.

Despite multiple air strikes and artillery attacks from Russia during the war that started in February last year, Odesa had not earlier been subjected to heavy barrages that had targeted other cities and towns in Ukraine’s east and south. Odesa’s residents reeled from Russia’s unexpected focus on their city.

Oleksandr Kolodin, a 29-year-old photographer, told the Associated Press that he remembers the attack on the port in 2022, but at the moment, it feels like it was 5% compared to what the Russians have launched over the past three days. Some also feared the Russian decision to tear up the grain deal would mark Odesa as a long-term primary target.

In one of its statements, the Russian Defense Ministry mentioned that it had targeted storage sites and production shops for uncrewed boats in Odesa and Chornomorsk. Russia’s military claims to have destroyed Ukraine’s fuel infrastructural facilities and ammunition depots in the Mykolaiv area. The claims of either side could be independently verified.

The earlier night, an intense Russian bombardment using missiles and drones impaired port infrastructure in Odesa, including oil and grain terminals. The attack impaired over 60,000 tons of grain. In what seemed to be a tit-for-tat activity, the Defense Ministry of Ukraine declared that as of Friday, all ships in the Black Sea sailing to the ports in Russia may be considered by Ukraine as transporting military cargo with associated risks.

That can result in rising insurance costs for those vessels. The Russian Defense Ministry said earlier this week that Moscow had formally announced the wide areas of the Black Sea to be dangerous for shipping. It also warned that it would view incoming ships to be loaded with weapons, effectively declaring a sea blockade.

Despite risks, vessel owners have not yet shown less interest in transporting Ukraine’s grain via the Black Sea, per John Stawpert, the senior manager of environment and trade associated with the International Chamber of Shipping that represents 80% of the commercial fleet in the world. The chief of EU’s foreign affairs condemned Russia targeting grain storage facilities.

Over 60,000 tons of grain has been burned, informed Josep Borrell in Brussels on Thursday regarding Moscow’s latest tactics. He added that Russia withdrew itself from the grain agreement and decided to burn the grain too. In the same meeting, Annalena Baerbock, the German Foreign Affairs Minister, mentioned that the EU had been involved in facilitating international efforts to get Ukraine’s grain to the world market.

The fact that Russia’s president has pulled out from the grain deal and is bombing the port of Odesa is not merely another attack on Ukraine, but one on the humans, on the poorest individuals in the world, she explained. She added that thousands of people, not to say millions, need grain from Ukraine urgently.

On Wednesday, the White House also warned that Russia would prepare to launch attacks on civilian shipping ships in the Black Sea region. The warning could also alarm shippers and result in a further increase in grain prices. Russia has once again laid additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukraine’s ports, White House National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge mentioned in a statement.

It is understood that this is a coordinated effort to justify attacks against civilian vessels in the Black Sea and blame Ukraine for such attacks, the statement specified. Carlos Mera, the head of agricultural commodities markets associated with Rabobank, has to eat that wheat prices had risen about 17% over the last week, calling it an unforeseen rise that started even before the grain deal ended on Monday and attributing it to a bit of panic.

He said a significant amount of the wheat from Ukraine is delivered to poor nations, such as North Africa. Individuals in those places are struggling with food insecurity and high food prices at a local level. In the meantime, Russia has been able to export record amounts of wheat over the past few months despite complaints that the country’s agricultural exports have also been hindered.

Russia has blasted Ukraine’s cities and towns since the beginning of the war. The Western allies of Ukraine have also helped upgrade its air defence systems. The US’s most recent military aid package, declared by the Pentagon on Wednesday, includes funding for four National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, abbreviated NASAMS, and munitions for them.

In the meantime, Ukraine’s military has started deploying cluster munitions — bombs that open in the air and can release scores of several smaller bomblets — that it received recently from the US, the US National Security spokesperson John Kirby said at a press meet on Thursday.

Reference: Economic Times, India Today, Reuters, The Hindu

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