A deal to begin shipping Ukrainian grain to markets around the world will proceed despite Russia’s surprise attack on the Black Sea port city of Odesa, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.
International condemnation continued to pour in for the Russian cruise missile strike Saturday, which came just after a deal brokered by Turkey to ease the blockade of Ukrainian ports and allow the grain to be shipped.
Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat and other agricultural products, especially to developing countries in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — which reached the five-month mark on Sunday — has sharply reduced supplies and sent prices soaring on world markets.
Despite the Saturday attack, “we continue technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports,” Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook early Sunday.
Odesa and other Black Sea ports still in Ukrainian hands are the key shipping point for the country’s vast grain harvests. The deal announced by Moscow, Kyiv and Ankara Friday called for blockading Russian ships to allow 20 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain to be shipped abroad.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry defended the cruise missile attack on Odesa, a major port Russian forces tried and failed to capture early in the conflict, even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sharply condemned the strike.
The grain deal, negotiated in part through the United Nations, was one of the first negotiated agreements between Kyiv and Moscow since the fighting began Feb. 24.
It reportedly contained a provision that Russia would refrain from attacks on Odesa and three other Black Sea ports as the grain was being prepared for shipping through agreed-upon “safe corridors.”
Mr. Blinken said in a statement that Saturday’s attack “undermines the effort to bring food to the hungry and the credibility of Russia’s commitments to the deal finalized [Friday] to allow Ukrainian exports.”
But a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman insisted that the cruise missile strike Saturday targeted only weaponry in a Ukrainian military shipyard.
“Sea-based high-precision long-range missiles destroyed a docked Ukrainian warship and a warehouse with Harpoon anti-ship missiles supplied by the U.S. to the Kyiv regime,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said at a daily briefing, according to The Associated Press.