Moscow has suspended implementation of a U.N.-brokered grain export deal that has allowed more than 9 million tons of grain to be shipped from Ukraine, helping to ease the global food crisis and lower prices.
The Russian Defense Ministry blamed an alleged Ukrainian drone attack against ships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet anchored off the coast of occupied Crimea for its exit from the agreement. Russia said the attack took place early Saturday; Ukraine has denied the attack.
“In connection with the actions of Ukrainian armed forces… the Russian side cannot guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea initiative, and suspends its implementation from today for an indefinite period,” the Russian statement said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, “In suspending this arrangement, Russia is again weaponizing food in the war it started, directly impacting low- and middle-income countries and global food prices, and exacerbating already dire humanitarian crises and food insecurity.”
Blinken said the U.S. urges “the Government of Russia to resume its participation in the Initiative, fully comply with the arrangement, and work to ensure that people around the world continue to be able to receive the benefits facilitated by the Initiative.”
The Russian declaration came one day after U.N. chief Antonio Guterres urged Russia and Ukraine to renew the grain deal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the Russian move “predictable.” He accused Moscow of “blockading” ships carrying grain since September, The Associated Press reported. Currently, he said, 176 vessels are backed up at sea, carrying more than 2 million tons of food.
“This is a transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine in Africa and Asia,” Zelenskyy said Saturday in his nightly video address. He called for a tough response against Russia from international bodies like the U.N. and the G-20.
Speaking to reporters in Delaware Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden called Russia’s decision to suspend its participation from the Ukrainian grain deal “purely outrageous” and said it would increase starvation.
“There’s no merit to what they’re doing. The U.N. negotiated that deal and that should be the end of it,” Biden said.
In a comment Saturday, U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations is in touch with the Russian authorities on the matter.
“It is vital that all parties refrain from any action that would imperil the Black Sea Grain Initiative which is a critical humanitarian effort that is clearly having a positive impact on access to food for millions of people around the world,” Dujarric said.
The Joint Coordination Center, which implements the grain deal, in a statement released Saturday, said it “is reviewing recent developments, assessing the impact on JCC’s operations and is discussing next steps.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister accused Moscow of using a “false pretext” Saturday to suspend its participation in the Black Sea grain corridor.
Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter, “I call on all states to demand Russia to stop its hunger games and recommit to its obligations.”
Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s first deputy representative to the U.N., also said Saturday that Russia had requested a meeting Monday of the U.N. Security Council because of the alleged attack on the Black Sea Fleet and the security of the grain corridor, the AP reported.
The Russian Defense Ministry accused the British navy of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month. Moscow did not provide any evidence to back up its claims that a leading NATO member had sabotaged critical Russian infrastructure that delivers much-needed gas to Europe.
London denied the claims and responded Saturday, saying, “To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense is resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale.”
Russia claims that “British specialists” from the same unit that took part in the planning, provision, and implementation of a terrorist attack in the Baltic Sea on September 26 also directed Ukrainian drones against Russia ships in Crimea early Saturday.
“Today at 4:20 a.m., the Kyiv regime carried out a terrorist attack on ships of the Black Sea Fleet and civilian ships that were on the outer and inner roadsteads [protected bodies of water] of the Sevastopol base,” Igor Konashenkov, chief spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry said. He added that the air targets were destroyed by Russia forces.
Konashenkov asserted the Black Sea Fleet ships that were attacked were there to secure “the grain corridor” as part of the international initiative to export agricultural products from Ukrainian ports.
In a statement Friday, Swedish lead prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said in reference to the damaged gas pipeline, “I’ve decided together with the security police to carry out a number of additional investigations at the scene of the crime.” Swedish armed forces are scouting the area around the two damaged Nord Stream pipelines with minesweepers.
Sweden and Denmark have both concluded that four leaks on Nord Stream 1 and 2 were caused by explosions, but they have not said who might be responsible. World leaders have called it an act of sabotage.
VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this story.