Russia bombs Ukraine ports, threatens ships

UN Security Council will discuss end of grain deal
calendar icon 21 July 2023
clock icon 4 minute read

Russia jolted world grain markets with an escalation in the Black Sea, mounting a third straight night of air strikes on Ukrainian ports and issuing a threat against Ukraine-bound vessels to which Kyiv responded in kind, reported Reuters.

At least 27 civilians were reported hurt in the air strikes on the ports, which set buildings ablaze and damaged China's consulate in Odesa.

The United States said Russia's warning to ships indicated Moscow might attack vessels at sea following Moscow's withdrawal on Monday from a UN-brokered deal to let Ukraine export grain. The signal that Russia was willing to use force to reimpose its blockade on one of the world's biggest food exporters set global prices soaring.

Moscow says it will not participate in the year-old grain deal without better terms for its own food and fertiliser sales.

The UN Security Council will meet on Friday over "the humanitarian consequences" of Russia's withdrawal, said Britain's UN mission.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the Russian attacks on Ukraine's Black Sea ports and warned the "destruction of civilian infrastructure may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law."

"These attacks are also having an impact well beyond Ukraine," said UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, adding higher wheat and corn prices hurt everyone, especially vulnerable people in the global south.

Kyiv is hoping to resume exports without Russia's participation. But no ships have sailed from its ports since Moscow pulled out of the deal, and insurers have had doubts about whether to underwrite policies for trade in a war zone.

Since quitting the deal, Moscow has rained missiles down nightly on Ukraine's two biggest port cities, Odesa and Mykolaiv. Thursday's strikes appeared to be the worst yet.

Odesa regional governor Oleh Kiper posted an image online of China's consulate building with broken windows. It is located in Odesa's city centre just across railway tracks from the port.

"The aggressor is deliberately hitting the port infrastructure - administrative and residential buildings nearby were damaged," Kiper said on Telegram.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the shock wave of the explosion "knocked down parts of the walls and window panes of the consulate."

In Mykolaiv, firefighters battled a huge blaze at a pink stucco residential building, blasted into a ruin. Several other residential buildings there were also damaged.

Moscow has described the port attacks as revenge for a Ukrainian strike on Russia's bridge to Crimea on Monday. It said on Thursday its retaliatory strikes were continuing and it had hit all its targets in Odesa and Mykolaiv.

In its most explicit threat yet, Russia's military announced it would deem all ships heading for Ukrainian waters from Thursday morning to be potentially carrying weapons, and their flag countries as parties to the war on the Ukrainian side. It said it was declaring parts of the Black Sea to be unsafe.

Kyiv responded on Thursday by announcing similar measures, saying it would consider vessels bound for Russia or Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory also to be carrying arms.

Washington called Russia's threat a signal that Moscow might attack civilian shipping. Russia's ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said his country was not preparing to do so.

Cluster munitions

The Black Sea escalation comes as Kyiv reports a new attempt by Russia to return to the offensive in the northeast of Ukraine, where it says Moscow has massed 100,000 troops and hundreds of tanks.

US-supplied cluster munitions are being deployed in the field as part of Kyiv's battle against Russia, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

"We have gotten some initial feedback from the Ukrainians, and they're using them quite effectively," Kirby said at a news briefing. He added the cluster munitions are having an impact on Russian defensive formations and maneuvering.

Ukraine has pledged to use the cluster bombs only to dislodge concentrations of Russian enemy soldiers. Many countries have banned the munitions, which contain scores of small bomblets that rain shrapnel over an area, as a potential danger to civilians.

Since last month, Ukrainian forces have been on the march in the east and the south, recapturing small amounts of territory in their first big counteroffensive since last year. But the going has been slow, and they are yet to take on Russia's main defensive lines.

The Black Sea escalation pushed US wheat futures up on Thursday, after they jumped 8.5% on Wednesday, their fastest single-day rise since the initial days of Russia's invasion in February last year.

Major grain importers in the Middle East and North Africa have reacted calmly however to the end of the safe shipping corridor, European commodity traders said, and there was no panic buying.

© 2000 - 2024 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.