KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russia followed its withdrawal from a grain export deal by expanding its attacks from port infrastructure to farm storage buildings in Ukraine’s Odesa region Friday, while also practicing a Black Sea blockade.
Other Russian missiles damaged what officials described only as an “important infrastructure facility” southwest of the port city of Odesa, in what appeared to be an effort to cripple Ukraine’s food exports.
Attacks in recent days have put Odesa in Russia’s crosshairs after Moscow abandoned a wartime deal that allowed Ukraine to send grain through the key Black Sea port.
A man watches as emergency service personnel work at the site of a destroyed building after a Russian attack in Odesa, Ukraine, Thursday, July 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
In the attack on the storage site, two low-flying cruise missiles started a blaze, then another struck during firefighting efforts, regional Gov. Oleh Kiper said. The barrage injured two people, damaged equipment and destroyed 100 metric tons (110 tons) of peas and 20 metric tons (22 tons) of barley, Kiper said.
Russia targeted Ukrainian critical grain export infrastructure after vowing to retaliate for what it said was a Ukrainian attack that damaged a crucial bridge between Russia and the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
“The enemy is continuing terror, and it’s undoubtedly related to the grain deal,” said Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s Operational Command South.
Both Russia and Ukraine have announced they will treat ships traveling to each other’s Black Sea ports as potential military targets.
A woman watches as emergency service personnel work at the site of a destroyed building after a Russian attack in Odesa, Ukraine, Thursday, July 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin clarified the Defense Ministry’s announcement earlier this week that Moscow has declared wide areas in the Black Sea dangerous for shipping. The ministry said it would consider incoming vessels as laden with weapons and treat the country of its flag a participant in the conflict on the Ukrainian side.
Vershinin said the Russian navy will inspect the vessels to make sure they aren´t carrying military cargo before taking any other action.
“There is no longer a sea humanitarian corridor, there is a zone of increased military danger,” he told a news briefing.
Vershinin added that Russia will fulfill the needs of African countries despite the deal’s termination. President Vladimir Putin has promised to provide poor countries in Africa with free grain.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said the recent strikes against port and grain infrastructure and threats of escalation at sea “are likely a part of a Kremlin effort to leverage Russia´s exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and exact extensive concessions from the West.”
A farm storage building is seen heavily damaged after a Russian attack in Odesa region, Ukraine, Friday, July 21, 2023. A missile barrage injured two people, damaged equipment and destroyed 100 metric tons of peas and 20 metric tons of barley, regional Gov. Oleh Kiper said. (AP Photo/Libkos)
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Western countries should address Russia´s demands to restore the Black Sea grain corridor.
“Russia has some expectations. If these are overcome, Russia is in favor of the active work of this grain corridor,” said Erdogan, who helped negotiate the deal. “We know that (Putin) has some expectations from Western countries. Western countries need to take action on this issue.”
He reiterated he would talk to Putin by phone and hoped to meet him in Turkey next month.
In comments reported by state-run news agency Anadolu and other media, Erdogan warned that the end of the grain initiative would raise global food prices, increase famine and unleash new waves of migration.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke with Erdogan by phone Friday, and they “coordinated efforts to restore the operation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.”
“Unlocking the grain corridor is an absolute priority,” Zelenskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.
Olha walks among debris at a farm storage building destroyed during a Russian attack in Odesa region, Ukraine, Friday, July 21, 2023. A missile barrage injured two people, damaged equipment and destroyed 100 metric tons of peas and 20 metric tons of barley, regional Gov. Oleh Kiper said. (AP Photo/Libkos)
The Russian Defense Ministry said the navy conducted drills that simulated action to seal off a section of the Black Sea. In the maneuvers, a missile boat fired anti-ship cruise missiles at a mock target.
The ministry also said it fired long-range sea-launched weapons on facilities “used for preparation of terror attacks against the Russian Federation involving drones,” adding that “all the designated targets have been hit.” It didn’t elaborate.
Putin, meantime, repeated his claim that Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive is failing, although he offered no evidence.
Putin, whose authority was shaken last month by a short-lived rebellion from a Russian mercenary force, told his Security Council that the Ukrainian military has suffered massive losses and the West is struggling to maintain supplies of weapons and ammunition.
Putin also spoke provocatively about Poland, alleging that Warsaw has formed a special military unit to ensure security in western Ukraine and plans to meddle in Kyiv’s affairs.
In other developments, Zelenskyy announced the resignation of the country’s culture minister, suggesting the ministry’s spending was misguided during wartime.
“Paving stones, city decorations, and fountains can wait till after the victory,” he said.
Recent scandals have involved local authorities, such as the repair of a cobblestone road in central Kyiv and renovation of a fountain in a western Ukraine city.
Zelenskyy also fired the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystaiko, who was also ambassador to the International Maritime Organization. He gave no reason, but Prystaiko had publicly criticized the president.