By Natalia Zinets and Max Hunder
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine continued its efforts to revive grain exports from its Black Sea ports under a deal to ease global food shortages, but warned deliveries would suffer if a strike of Russian missiles over Odessa was the sign of more to come.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy denounced Saturday’s attack as “barbarism” showing that Moscow could not be trusted to implement an agreement reached the day before with the mediation of Turkey and the United Nations.
The Ukrainian army, quoted by the public television channel Suspilne, said that the Russian missiles did not hit the grain storage area at the port or cause significant damage. Kyiv said preparations to resume grain shipments were underway.
“We are continuing technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports,” Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a Facebook post.
The Ukrainian military said two Kalibr missiles fired from Russian warships hit the area of a port pumping station and two others were shot down by air defense forces.
Russia said on Sunday its forces hit a Ukrainian warship and an arms store in Odessa with precision missiles.
The agreement signed Friday by Moscow and Kyiv was hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough that would help curb soaring global food prices by restoring Ukrainian grain shipments to pre-war levels of 5 million tonnes per month.
But Zelenskiy’s economic adviser, Oleh Ustenko, told Ukrainian television that the strike “indicates that it will definitely not work out like that”.
He said Ukraine could export 60 million tonnes of grain in the next nine months, but it would take up to 24 months if operations at its ports were disrupted.
THE WAR ENTERS THE SIXTH MONTH
There were no signs of letting up the fighting on Monday as Russia announced its intention to investigate war crimes it says were committed by Ukrainian forces.
The Ukrainian military reported widespread Russian shelling and again referred to Russian operations paving the way for an assault on Bakhmut in the eastern Donbass region.
The military said in a briefing note that the Russians carried out airstrikes near the Vuhlehirsk power plant, 50 km (31 miles) northeast of Donetsk.
While the main theater of combat has been the Donbass, the Ukrainian military reported progress in a counter-offensive in the occupied Kherson region in the eastern Black Sea, where their forces moved within range of shooting Russian targets.
Russian commanders still face a dilemma – whether to fund an offensive in the east or bolster their defences, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Twitter.
Reuters could not immediately verify reports from the battlefield.
Moscow has charged 92 members of Ukraine’s armed forces with crimes against humanity and proposed a new international tribunal to handle the investigation, Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia’s investigative commission, said in remarks published in the night.
The announcement comes after the United States and more than 40 other countries agreed on July 14 to coordinate investigations into alleged war crimes in Ukraine, primarily regarding the alleged actions of Russian forces and their proxies.
The strikes on Odessa have been condemned by the United Nations, European Union, United States, Britain, Germany and Italy.
According to Russian news agencies, the Russian Defense Ministry said a Ukrainian warship and anti-ship missiles supplied by the United States were destroyed.
Friday’s agreement aims to allow safe passage in and out of Ukrainian ports, blocked by the Russian Black Sea Fleet since the February 24 invasion of Moscow, as part of what a UN official called it a “de facto ceasefire” for covered ships and installations.
Ukraine and Russia are the world’s top wheat exporters and the blockade has trapped tens of millions of tonnes of grain, worsening bottlenecks in the global supply chain.
Along with Western sanctions on Russia, it has fueled inflation in food and energy prices, plunging some 47 million people into “acute hunger”, according to the World Food Programme.
Moscow denies any responsibility for the food crisis, accusing the sanctions of slowing down its food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine of having mined the approaches to its ports.
Ukraine has mined the waters near its ports as part of its wartime defences, but under Friday’s agreement pilots will guide vessels along safe channels.
A joint coordination center made up of members of the four parties to the agreement will monitor ships crossing the Black Sea to the Turkish Bosphorus Strait and to global markets. All parties agreed on Friday that there would be no attacks against them.
Putin calls the war a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and rooting out dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and the West call it a baseless pretext for aggressive land grabbing.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Max Hunder in Kyiv, Tom Balmforth, Elaine Monaghan and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lawrence Hurley and Stephen Coates; Editing by Diane Craft and Simon Cameron-Moore)