The European Union on Sunday called on Russia to reverse its decision to pull out of a U.N.-brokered grain deal, a move that undermined efforts to ease a global food crisis, and that Ukraine said Moscow had planned well in advance.
Moscow suspended its participation in the Black Sea deal on Saturday, effectively cutting shipments from Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain exporters, in response to what it called a major Ukrainian drone attack earlier in the day on its fleet near the port of Sevastopol in Russian-annexed Crimea.
“Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea deal puts at risk the main export route of much-needed grain and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.
“The EU urges Russia to (reverse) its decision.”
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On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden called the move “purely outrageous,” saying it would increase starvation, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of weaponising food. On Sunday, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, snapped back, saying the U.S. response was “outrageous” and made false assertions about Moscow’s move.
Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine attacked the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol with 16 drones early on Saturday, and that British navy “specialists” had helped coordinate what it called a terrorist attack.
Russia said it had repelled the attack but that the ships targeted were involved in ensuring the grain corridor out of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow used the explosions 220 kilometres (137 miles) away from the grain corridor as a “false pretext” for a long-intended move.
“Russia has planned this well in advance,” Kuleba said on Twitter. “Russia took the decision to resume its hunger games long ago and now tries to justify it,” he said, without offering any evidence.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff accused Russia on Saturday of inventing attacks on its own facilities.
Kyiv often accuses Russia of using the Black Sea Fleet to fire cruise missiles at Ukrainian civilian targets, a charge supported by some military analysts, who say that makes the fleet a legitimate military target.
Moscow also accused British navy personnel of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month, a claim that London said was false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.
Russia’s departure from the grain deal marks a new development in an eight-month war that began with Russia’s invasion in February and that has recently been dominated by a Ukrainian counteroffensive and Russian drone and missile attacks that have destroyed more than 30% of Ukraine’s generating capacity and hit populated areas.
Each side has accused the other of being prepared to detonate radioactive bombs.
Zelenskyy called for a strong response from the United Nations and Group of 20 (G-20) major economies to what he called Russia’s nonsensical move on the grain deal.
“This is a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa, for Asia,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Saturday, adding that Russia should be kicked out of the G-20.
The grain deal had restarted shipments from Ukraine, allowing sales on world markets, targeting the pre-war level of 5 million metric tons exported from Ukraine each month.
More than 9 million tonnes of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soy have been exported under the July 22 deal.
But ahead of its Nov. 19 expiry, Russia had repeatedly said that there were serious problems with it. Ukraine complained Moscow had blocked almost 200 ships from picking up grain cargo.
When the agreement was signed, the U.N. World Food Programme said some 47 million people were suffering “acute hunger” as the war halted Ukrainian shipments, causing global food shortages and sending prices soaring.
The deal ensured safe passage in and out of Odesa and two other Ukrainian ports in what an official called a “de facto ceasefire” for the ships and facilities covered.
Russia told U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday in a letter, seen by Reuters, that it was suspending the deal for an “indefinite term” because it could not “guarantee safety of civilian ships” travelling under the pact.
Moscow asked the U.N. Security Council to meet on Monday to discuss the Sevastopol attack, Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter.
More than 10 outbound and inbound vessels waited to enter the humanitarian corridor on Saturday and there was no agreement for the movement of vessels on Sunday, Amir Abdulla, the U.N. coordinator for the deal, said on Saturday.