Less than 24 hours after agreeing to allow grain exports to resume from Ukraine, two sea-launched Russian Kalibr cruise missiles struck Odesa — the main port named in the deal signed in Istanbul on Friday.
The Russian attack on Saturday has cast doubt on the future of the agreement, which aims to ease the global food crisis sparked by war and Moscow’s months-long blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
Here’s the latest:
- What Russia said: Initially, Moscow denied involvement in the strikes, with the Kremlin telling Turkey — which helped broker the grain deal — that “in no uncertain terms” it had “nothing to do with this attack.” But 12 hours later, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed the Russian strikes, saying they had destroyed “military infrastructure” with “high precision” missiles.
- What Ukraine and its allies said: Serhii Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa military administration, said two missiles hit the infrastructure of the port and two were shot down by Ukraine’s air defense. US officials said they were “deeply concerned” and were working with Ukraine on a “Plan B” to get grain exports out of the country. USAID administrator Samantha Power said she hoped the grain deal “somehow sticks” despite Russia’s move to “immediately turn its back” on the agreement. Meanwhile, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss said the attack “shows not a word [Russian President Vladimir Putin] says can be trusted.”
- Why the deal matters: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that the agreement would spare billions of people from hunger. The UN, leaders and experts have warned of a catastrophic food crisis as grain shipments have not been able to reach the global market. The Kremlin has previously rejected accusations that Russia is obstructing the export of grain from Ukraine and instead blamed the West and Kyiv.
- Some context: Around 20 million metric tons of grain are held up in Ukraine, where the summer harvest is now well underway. The deal would allow 5 million metric tons of grain exports per month from three Ukrainian ports, a senior UN official said Friday.
- What’s in the deal? No ceasefire was explicitly agreed, though Russia “committed to facilitate the unimpeded export of food, sunflower oil and fertilizers,” according to a statement from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ office. In exchange, Guterres agreed to effectively ease some sanctions against Russia for food and fertilizer.
When will grain exports resume? Speaking in Istanbul after the strike, Ukrainian deputy infrastructure minister Yurii Vaskov said technical meetings to implement the deal were ongoing. Turkey’s Defense Ministry said “coordination between authorities continues for the first ship loaded with grain to start sailing from Ukrainian ports as soon as possible.” Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed Russian military vessels would help escort the cargo ships once grain exports restart.