Russia announced on Saturday that it will suspend implementation of a UN-sponsored grain deal that made it possible to export more than 9 million tons of grain from Ukraine during the war and has pushed down global food prices.
The Russian Defense Ministry cited as a reason for the move an alleged Ukrainian drone attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet ships docked off the coast of the occupied Crimean peninsula, which Russia said took place early on Saturday. Ukraine has denied carrying out the attack, saying the Russians mishandled their own weapons.
The Russian statement came a day after UN Director Antonio Guterres called on Russia and Ukraine to renew the grain export agreement. Guterres also urged other, mainly Western, countries to speed up the removal of obstacles blocking Russian grain and fertilizer exports.
The UN chief said the grain deal — sponsored by the UN and Turkey in July and set to expire on November 19 — has helped “cushion the suffering that this global cost-of-living crisis is inflicting on billions. of people,” added his spokesman.
UN officials were in contact with Russian authorities about the announced suspension, spokesman Stephane Dujarric added.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Saturday accused British specialists of involvement in the alleged drone attack on Russian ships in Crimea. The British Ministry of Defense had no immediate comment. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba took to Twitter on Saturday to accuse Russia of playing “the hunger games” by jeopardizing global food shipments.
The head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak, denounced the Russian suspension as “primitive blackmail”.
The Russian Agriculture Minister said that Moscow is ready to “completely replace Ukrainian grain and supply it at affordable prices to all interested countries.” In remarks picked up by the state television channel Rossiya 24, Dmitry Patrushev said that Moscow was ready to “provide free up to 500,000 tons of grain to the poorest countries in the next four months”, with the help of Turkey.
Moments earlier on Saturday, Ukraine and Russia offered differing accounts of the suspected drone attack in Crimea, in which at least one Russian ship was damaged in a port on the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that a minesweeper suffered “minor damage” during Ukraine’s alleged pre-dawn attack on Russian Navy ships and civilian ships anchored in Sevastopol, which is home to the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Russian forces had “fought back” 16 attacking drones, according to the ministry.
But an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry claimed that “careless handling of explosives” had caused explosions in four warships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Anton Gerashchenko wrote on Telegram that the vessels included a frigate, a landing ship and a ship carrying cruise missiles used in a deadly July attack on a western Ukrainian city.
In other developments on Saturday, Russian troops removed a large number of sick and wounded comrades from hospitals in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, the Ukrainian military said Saturday, as its forces struggled to liberate an invaded province. by invading soldiers early in the war.
Kremlin-installed authorities in the mostly Russian-occupied region earlier urged civilians to leave the city of Kherson, the capital of the region of the same name. Moscow-appointed authorities in Kherson were also reported to have left the city, joining tens of thousands of residents who fled to other Russian-held areas ahead of an expected advance by Ukrainian forces.
“The so-called evacuation of invaders from the temporarily occupied territory of the Kherson region continues, including in medical institutions,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced in a morning report. “All equipment and medicines are being withdrawn from Kherson Hospitals,” he added.
It was not possible to independently verify the military’s claims. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also claimed in a televised address Friday night that the Russians were “dismantling the entire health care system” in Kherson and other occupied areas.
“The occupants have decided to close medical institutions in the cities, take away equipment, ambulances. Just everything,” Zelenskyy said. “They pressured the doctors who were still in the occupied areas to move to Russian territory.”
Kherson is one of four Ukrainian regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and subsequently declared martial law. The others are Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia.
As Ukrainian forces sought gains in the south, Russia continued its campaign of shelling and missile attacks in the east of the country, Ukrainian authorities said on Saturday. Three civilians were killed in the last day and eight more were wounded in the Donetsk region, which has again become a flashpoint on the battlefront as Russian soldiers try to capture the city of Bakhmut.