Ukraine says Russian missiles hit Odesa port; grain deal at risk

| Updated: July 23, 2022 21:31:41

Ukraine says Russian missiles hit Odesa port; grain deal at risk

Russian missiles hit the major port of Odesa in southern Ukraine on Saturday, the Ukrainian military said, dealing a blow to a deal that was signed on Friday to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports.

The landmark deal signed by Moscow and Kyiv on Friday is seen as crucial to curbing soaring global food prices, easing a supply crunch by allowing certain exports to be shipped from Black Sea ports including Odesa, reports Reuters.

UN officials had said on Friday they hoped the agreement would be operational in a few weeks but it was not yet clear if that would still be possible given Saturday's strikes.

"The enemy attacked the Odesa sea trade port with Kalibr cruise missiles," Ukraine's Operational Command South wrote on the Telegram messaging app. Two missiles hit infrastructure at the port, while another two were shot down by air defence forces, it said. Ukraine's foreign ministry called on the United Nations and Turkey, which mediated Friday's deal, to ensure that Russia fulfils its commitments and allows free passage in the grain corridor.

The US ambassador to Kyiv, Bridget Brink, called the strike "outrageous".

"The Kremlin continues to weaponise food. Russia must be held to account," Brink wrote on Twitter.

Russia's defence ministry did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

A blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia's Black Sea fleet since Moscow's Feb 24 invasion of its neighbour has trapped tens of millions of tonnes of grain and stranded many ships. This has worsened global supply chain bottlenecks and, along with Western sanctions on Russia, stoked food and energy price inflation.

Russia and Ukraine are major global wheat suppliers, and the war sent food prices soaring. A global food crisis has pushed some 47 million people into "acute hunger," according to the World Food Programme.

Friday's deal seeks to avert famine in poorer nations by injecting more wheat, sunflower oil, fertilizer and other products into world markets including for humanitarian needs, partly at lower prices.

UN officials said on Friday the deal, expected to be fully operational in a few weeks, would restore grain shipments from the three reopened ports to pre-war levels of 5 million tonnes a month.

Under the deal, Ukrainian officials would guide ships through safe channels across mined waters to three ports, including Odesa, where they would be loaded with grain.

Moscow has denied responsibility for the crisis, blaming Western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertiliser exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its Black Sea ports.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday the deal would make around $10 billion worth of grain available for sale with roughly 20 million tonnes of last year's harvest to be exported.

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