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WAR IN EUROPE

Russia strikes Ukraine’s Danube port, sending global grain prices higher

Two boys look at a damaged building in the aftermath of a drone attack on the Ukrainian Danube Shipping Company building in the city of Izmail, Odesa region, southern Ukraine, 2 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / IGOR TKACHENKO)

Russia attacked Ukraine's main inland port across the Danube River from Romania on Wednesday, sending global food prices higher as it ramps up its use of force to prevent Ukraine from exporting grain.

The attacks destroyed buildings in the port of Izmail and halted ships as they prepared to arrive there to load up with Ukrainian grain in defiance of a de facto blockade Russia reimposed in mid-July.

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the Russian drone attacks damaged almost 40,000 tonnes of grains which had been destined for countries in Africa as well as China and Israel.

“Russian terrorists have once again attacked ports, grain, global food security,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram.

Russian state news agency RIA said the port and grain infrastructure hit was housing foreign mercenaries and military hardware. A naval ship repair yard was also targeted, it said. Reuters was not able to verify the report.

Video released by the Ukrainian authorities showed firefighters on ladders battling a blaze several storeys high in a building covered with broken windows. Several other large buildings were in ruins, and grain spilled out of at least two wrecked silos.

There were no reports of casualties, Odesa regional governor Oleh Kiper wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

Commercial shiptracking data showed dozens of international ships halting and dropping anchor at the mouth of the Danube, many of them registered to arrive in Izmail in an apparent attempt to breach Russia’s blockade.

The port, across the river from Nato-member Romania, is the main alternative route out of Ukraine for grain exports, since Russia’s blockade halted traffic at Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in mid-July.

Two industry sources told Reuters operations at the port were suspended. Seaport authority head Yuriy Lytvyn said on Facebook that repair work had already begun and the port infrastructure continued to operate.

Chicago wheat pricesWv1 rose by nearly 5% on supply concerns after the attack, only to tumble back later on Wednesday on strong Russian exports and signs Moscow may be open to reviving the Black Sea corridor deal.

Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain exporters. Russia has attacked its agricultural and port infrastructure for more than two weeks after refusing to extend an agreement that had lifted its war-time blockade of Ukrainian ports last year.

PUTIN-ERDOGAN TALKS

President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone to the grain export deal’s sponsor, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Kremlin said Putin reiterated Russia’s condition for rejoining the grain deal: that a parallel deal improving terms for its own food and fertiliser exports be implemented. Those exports are already exempt from sanctions, which the West says Moscow aims to undermine by threatening the global food supply.

Erdoğan’s office said he and Putin agreed that the Russian leader would soon visit Turkey. Putin, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, has made no official visits abroad this year, and has left former Soviet territory only once since launching his invasion – a day trip to Tehran more than a year ago. Erdoğan has long said he hopes to host Putin and convince him to rejoin the grain deal.

Moscow has described recent attacks on Ukraine’s grain infrastructure as retaliation for a Ukrainian strike on a bridge across the Kerch Strait to Crimea used to supply its troops in southern Ukraine.

Russia’s defence ministry imposed restrictions on movement of ships and aircraft in the strait on Wednesday, the Tass news agency reported. It did not give a reason for the move.

US ambassador Bridget Brink condemned the attacks in a statement, listing recent Russian targets: “Homes. Ports. Grain silos. Historic buildings. Men. Women. Children.

“Round-the-clock and intensifying Russian strikes on Kryvyi Rih, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Kherson make it clear once again Russia has no desire for peace, no thought for civilian safety, and no regard for people around the world who rely on food from Ukraine.”

Zelensky said he hoped a Ukraine “peace summit” could be held this autumn.

Kyiv says the goal of the strikes is to reimpose Russia’s blockade by persuading shippers and their insurance companies that Ukrainian ports are unsafe to resume exports.

Deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters on Wednesday: “We continue to reach out, at various levels, to make sure that we can continue to do as much as possible to get Ukrainian and Russian food and fertiliser out to markets, but it is difficult.”

Ukraine’s Danube river ports such as Izmail accounted for around a quarter of grain exports before Russia pulled out of the Black Sea deal, and have since become the main route out, with grain loaded on to barges and shipped to Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta for shipment onwards.

Kyiv’s goal is for international ships to go straight there and load up directly, while Moscow says it will treat ships heading to Ukrainian seaports as potential military targets.

The United Nations has warned of a potential food crisis in the world’s poorest countries due to Russia’s decision to abandon the deal, brokered by the UN and Turkey.

Ukrainian officials say Moscow has hit 26 port facilities, five civilian vessels and 180,000 tonnes of grain in nine days of strikes since quitting the grain deal.

(Writing by Pavel Polityuk, Peter Graff and Hugh Lawson; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Philippa Fletcher and Giles Elgood.)

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