ODESA, Ukraine – A series of explosions in Ukraine’s southern city of Odessa on Saturday came 24 days after an agreement was signed to secure the transit of millions of tons of grain through the Black Sea routes to one of the country’s most important ports. Killed in less than an hour.
Before the deal could be executed, the risk of an attack on Ukrainian grain shipping facilities brokered by the United Nations and Turkey undermined the deal. The deal was seen as crucial to boosting global supplies after fears of food shortages in poorer countries following a sharp drop in Ukrainian grain exports.
Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said on Saturday that Russian forces fired four Kalibr cruise missiles at Ukraine’s largest port, Odessa. “Two rockets were shot down by Air Defense Forces, two hit port infrastructure facilities,” it wrote in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
Officials said the port in Odessa had been targeted for the first time since the start of the war.
The condemnation from Ukraine was swift. The country’s foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Facebook that with the attacks, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin had “spit in the face” of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After the two “made an enormous effort to reach this agreement.”
The deputy spokesman for the UN Secretary-General condemned the attacks, saying in a statement that the full implementation of the agreement was “essential”.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin. The attack came a day before the Russian foreign minister was about to begin a tour of Africa, where he is expected to try to blame the West for the food shortage.
The blast wave from the missiles hitting the port could be felt from miles away, although it was unclear where they struck. The vast port stretches for miles along Odessa’s Black Sea coast with huge silver grain silos in many different locations.
It was not clear what the strike was aimed at and whether any grain infrastructure was damaged. According to a senior UN official, Russia technically would not have violated the deal, as it had not pledged to refrain from attacking parts of Ukrainian ports that are not directly used for grain exports. If there were military targets nearby, Russia would be trying to take advantage of a loophole.
Still, the damage appeared to be extensive, and the country’s agriculture minister, Mykola Solsky, said the attacks would stifle Ukraine’s grain export efforts.
“If you attack one port, you attack everything,” he said in a telephone interview. “You use a lot of the same infrastructure for grain, for oil. It has an effect on everything – it doesn’t matter what you hit.”
Mr Solsky said some of the infrastructure destroyed was “critical to process all imports”, but added that Ukraine would proceed as if the grain deal was still in effect.
“We understand that we still have a war with Russia,” he said. “Our agreement was with the United Nations and Turkey, not Russia.”
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said 10 explosions were caused in Odessa from Russian attacks, and the attack on the port caused a fire.
“In this way Russia fulfills its responsibility to guarantee the safe export of Ukrainian grain,” he wrote on his public channel on the Telegram social media app. “Now not only the West but China and other countries that Putin was counting on to ease pressure from sanctions know that you can’t trust Putin at all, not an ounce,” he said.
On Friday, Biden administration officials expressed doubts that Russia would abide by its commitments to allow safe passage of ships through the Black Sea.