Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said separately that due to the attack, “the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative will no longer be guaranteed and will be suspended indefinitely starting today.”
Britain has accused Russia of “making false claims of the highest order” in response to the drone attack. Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility for the attack.
A video posted on Ukrainian Telegram channels on Saturday showed a naval drone targeting the Russian Admiral Makarov frigate. The Makarov has reportedly replaced Moscow’s flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, which sank last April after Ukrainian forces fired an anti-ship missile at the Neptune. The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the video.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the drone attack was largely repulsed, and only one minesweeper suffered minor damage.
Moscow and Kiev signed a grain deal last July that opened Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to exports, which was suspended after Russia invaded the country on February 24.
Turkey played a key role in brokering the deal as it has close ties to Russia and Ukraine and seeks to boost its diplomatic profile as a mediator in talks between the warring parties.
As part of the deal, Ukrainian pilots piloted ships through ports that had been mined before the war to prevent Russia from seizing key ports such as Odessa. The US and Ukraine have also accused the Russian navy of laying mines off the coast of Ukraine.
The Russian military then allowed the ships to be safely sent to Turkey, where they organized teams of experts from all relevant fields to inspect the ships before they left for their destination. Ships bound for Ukraine were also screened for weapons, a condition imposed on Moscow not to use the grain corridor to supply Western arms to Ukraine.
According to the United Nations, more than eight million tons of grain were exported from Ukraine as part of the agreement on the reduction of world food prices.
“It is important that all parties refrain from any actions that would negatively impact the Black Sea Grains Initiative, a vital humanitarian effort that positively impacts access to food for millions of people around the world,” said Stéphane Dujarric. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a statement.
Negotiations over the extension were strained even before the ship struck, with Moscow saying it might withdraw from the agreement after repeated complaints about its implementation.
Last September, Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of curbing the deal, saying goods went to the European Union rather than to poorer countries suffering from food shortages.
Erdogan echoed Putin’s complaint, adding that he wanted to export Russian grain as well.
“It is true that grain shipments are going to the countries that implement these sanctions [against Moscow] worrying Mr. Putin. We also want to start grain transportation from Russia,” Erdogan said at a press conference. “The grain that’s part of this grain deal unfortunately goes to rich countries, not poor countries.”
After an explosion at a strategic bridge linking Crimea with mainland Russia in early October, Putin speculated that the grain corridor may have been used by Ukrainian special services to attack the symbolic gateway. If proven, he suggested, the deal would be adversely affected.
Putin blamed Kiev for the attack on the strategic bridge in Crimea
In October, Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, announced that Russian-flagged ships were not being accepted in European ports due to sanctions, and lamented the difficulty of obtaining insurance and financing for grain and fertilizer shipments from Russia.
Ukraine, in turn, accused Moscow of not fully implementing the agreement. In a speech late last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was “deliberately delaying the passage of ships,” artificially detaining more than 150 ships.
Zelensky said that the situation with Ukraine’s food exports continues to worsen, and that Moscow is doing everything to slow down this process.
Zelensky said, “I believe that by these actions, Russia is deliberately provoking the food crisis and making it as tense as it was in the first half of this year.
Last week, Ukraine also accused Russia of obstructing the full implementation of the deal, saying Ukrainian ports have recently been operating at 25-30 percent of capacity.
“Russia is deliberately obstructing the full implementation of the grain initiative,” the country’s Infrastructure Ministry said at the time.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba tweeted on Saturday that Moscow was using “false pretexts” to stop Ukraine from exporting grain and other agricultural products.
“We warned of Russia’s plan to sabotage the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” Kuleba wrote. He also called on the international community to “stop Russia’s hunger games and demand that it fulfill its obligations.”
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said Moscow was being “blackmailed” with food, energy and nuclear materials, describing it as “primitive.”
David Stern contributed to this report.