8th Dec 2023

World leaders condemn Putin's Odessa attack after grain deal

  • Russia has a grip on over 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain, stuck at ports in the Black Sea since the war began in late February (Photo: UNDP Ukraine)
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World leaders have condemned a Russian missile strike on Ukraine's Odessa seaport on Saturday (23 July), after a landmark deal to resume grain exports was reached earlier last week.

"Striking a target crucial for grain export a day after the signature of Istanbul agreements is particularly reprehensible and again demonstrates Russia's total disregard for international law and commitments," said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

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After months of intense negotiations, Ukraine and Russia finally struck a deal to resume grain exports on Friday (22 July), with the UN and Turkey. Under the deal, aimed at establishing "safe corridors," both parties agreed not to attack any vessels carrying grain and port facilities used to export wheat.

Odessa is Ukraine's largest port and one of the most important hubs in the Black Sea for grain exports.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said this "cowardly" attack shows that Russia's signature to the grain deal "counts for little at the moment".

Echoing the same message, the UK's foreign secretary Liz Truss talked about "broken promises".

She said the missile attack, which hit one of the silos, shows that "not a word he [Russian president Vladimir Putin] says can be trusted".

"We need to urgently work with our international partners to find a better way of getting the grain out of Ukraine that doesn't involve Russia and their broken promises," she said.

US state secretary Antony Blinken also condemned the Russian strike on Odessa, warning that such an attack "casts serious doubt" on Moscow's credibility.

Russia has had a grip on over 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain stuck at ports in the Black Sea since the war began in late February — pushing up global food prices, worsening famine in some vulnerable countries and triggering widespread fears over a new global food crisis.

"The fact that an incident like this happened after the agreement we made yesterday... really makes us concerned," Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday, according to AFP.

Ukrainian officials said Russian missiles hit one of the silos in the port city of Odessa and another fell in an area close to the silo, "but there was no problem in the loading capacity and capability of the docks, which is important, and that the activities there can continue," Akar said.

But Moscow has so far denied carrying out any attack on grain silos in Odessa. Russia said on Sunday that its missiles had only hit military targets.

"In the seaport in the city of Odessa, on the territory of a shipyard, sea-based high-precision long-range missiles destroyed a docked Ukrainian warship and a warehouse with Harpoon anti-ship missiles supplied by the US to the Kyiv regime," Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said at a daily briefing on Sunday.

'Putin's spit' on grain deal

UN chief Antonio Guterres also condemned the attacks, arguing that ensuring the "safe" export of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets is key.

"These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and ease the suffering of millions of people in need around the globe," said a UN spokesperson, Reuters reported.

Ukraine's foreign affairs spokesman Oleg Nikolaev described the attack as "Putin's spit in the face" of the UN chief and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who made "enormous efforts" to reach the grain agreement.

For his part, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said that this attack had "destroyed the very possibility" of dialogue with Moscow.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations such as Oxfam urged Russia not to use food as a "weapon of war" since some countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen are facing soaring food prices amidst the worst droughts recorded in recent years.

African Union chief raises alarm over food crisis at EU summit

Disruption in exports of grain and fertilisers as a consequence of the Ukraine war is triggering a "worrying" situation for the continent hosting 282 million undernourished people, African Union president Macky Sall told EU leaders at the summit.


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