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UKRAINE UPDATE: 27 NOVEMBER 2023

Drones downed over Moscow; Russian grain donations due to land in Africa

Drones downed over Moscow; Russian grain donations due to land in Africa
A preschool building in the Solomianskyi district of Kyiv, Ukraine, lies partially destroyed by a drone fragment on 25 November 2023. (Photo: Yevhenii Zavhorodnii / Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Russia was targeted by the biggest drone attack in months, a day after firing the heaviest barrage of loitering munitions at Ukraine in the 22-month war so far.

Russian shipments of donated grain are due to begin landing in Africa within days, giving fresh impetus to its bid to bolster its influence in the continent, while President Volodymyr Zelensky said that special convoys would accompany vessels carrying key exports from Ukraine, including foodstuffs, via the Black Sea to ensure safe passage.

Russia and Ukraine exchange heavy drone barrages

Russia was the target overnight of the biggest drone attack it’s sustained in months, a day after firing the heaviest barrage of loitering munitions at Ukraine in the 22-month war so far.

The Russian Defence Ministry reported 24 drones shot down overnight and early Sunday morning across at least four regions, including Moscow. 

An unidentified source within Ukraine’s military intelligence told Ukrainska Pravda that a total of 35 drones were launched in a planned response to Moscow’s drone barrage against Kyiv on Saturday.  

The actions were designed as a sign that Russia should consider the consequences of its actions, the newswire cited the intelligence source as saying.

Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of the Russian capital, said on his Telegram channel that several drones had been aimed at Moscow, calling it a “massive attack”. Three Moscow-area airports imposed flight restrictions that were later lifted.

Drones were spotted not only in Moscow, but also in the Bryansk region, Tula region and Smolensk region.

In the Tula region, south of the capital, a drone hit an apartment in a residential building with one person mildly injured, the regional government said on its social media account. Drones were also reported in the Kaluga and Tver regions.

The strikes were heaviest targeted at Russia in at least two months, excluding recent attacks on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014. It was the first time Moscow had been attacked since the summer. 

Apart from the drones, two Ukrainian S-200 surface-to-air missiles converted to strike targets on the ground were detected and downed over the Sea of Azov, the Defence Ministry reported on its Telegram channel. 

The attacks followed Russian strikes against Ukraine on Saturday as the nation marked the 90th anniversary of the yearlong Soviet-era famine known as the Holodomor orchestrated by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

Russia fired the biggest barrage of loitering munitions in the conflict so far, with 71 of 75 drones shot down by Ukraine’s air defence. An air alert was active in Kyiv for about six hours.

The intensity of the Russian attacks receded on Sunday, with another nine drones reported by Ukraine’s Air Force on Telegram.

Russia woos Africa with free grain

Russian shipments of donated grain are due to begin landing in Africa within days, giving fresh impetus to its bid to bolster its influence in the continent.

At a Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg in July, President Vladimir Putin promised to send free grain to six African countries that have strong ties with Moscow. The move followed criticism that Russia’s war in Ukraine and its withdrawal from a deal that facilitated the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea were pushing up global food and fertiliser prices.

The shipments will total 200,000 tonnes by year-end, the Russian Agriculture Ministry was cited by the Interfax news agency as saying, with Somalia and Burkina Faso set to be the first recipients. Zimbabwe, Mali, Eritrea and the Central African Republic are also due to get between 25,000 and 50,000 tonnes of grain each, Putin said in July. That’s a tiny fraction of what they consume.

Russia’s push to strengthen ties with African nations by increasing trade and deploying Wagner mercenaries to prop up unstable governments follows efforts by the US and its allies to isolate it in response to the invasion of Ukraine. It remains a minor player, however — its two-way trade with the continent was only $18-billion in 2022, a fraction of China’s $282-billion. 

Research presented at a conference in Cape Town on Sunday, organised by a foundation set up by former president Thabo Mbeki, sought to dispel the notion that Moscow bore primary responsibility for rising food costs. Direct or indirect sanctions imposed on Russia and its ally Belarus cut global fertiliser and ammonia supplies by 40.8 million tonnes through April 2023, according to the study, which was backed by a fund founded by Russian fertiliser billionaire Andrey Melnichenko.

Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s leading exporters of grain and vegetable oil. The war has affected global supplies of both commodities, with Russia bombing Ukrainian stores and ports.

While Russian fertiliser hasn’t been subjected to international sanctions, penalties imposed on owners of companies that produce it and restrictions by the banking and logistics industries saw exports fall last year. They have since recovered, spurring a decline in prices.

The study’s analysis of the impact of the Black Sea grain deal showed that it helped to feed about 95 million people, but fell short of ensuring that fertiliser originating from Russia could flow freely to global markets. Had that happened, food could have been produced that fed about 199 million people, it said.

Billionaire Melnichenko, who holds dual citizenship of Russia and the United Arab Emirates, was sanctioned by the European Union and the US following the invasion of Ukraine. He travelled to South Africa late last year to lobby politicians to support his pleas for the EU to resolve fertiliser supply issues. 

Ukraine plans to protect Black Sea corridor with special convoys

President Volodymyr Zelensky said that special convoys would accompany vessels carrying key exports from Ukraine, including foodstuffs, via the Black Sea to ensure safe passage.

Kyiv recently opened a unilateral corridor from the region to allow ships to transport commodities like grains and metals from its deep-sea ports in so-called Greater Odesa, after Moscow in July pulled out of a United Nations-backed Black Sea grain deal that had guaranteed safe movement of crop vessels.

Read more: Ukraine’s risky bet pays off with ships streaming to ports

“I have agreements with several countries regarding powerful convoys operated by Ukrainians but equipped with foreign gear,” Zelensky said on Saturday at a press conference in the capital, Kyiv, where he hosted the international Grain from Ukraine conference.  

“We will receive and are already being provided with sea boats,” he added. 

Russia stepped up missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian port infrastructure and hit a commercial ship at one of Greater Odesa’s ports earlier this month, adding to risks for Ukraine’s commodity exports just as farmers in the war-battered nation are close to completing this year’s harvest. A ship chartered by agricultural giant Cargill was damaged by an explosion while sailing from a Ukrainian port in the Black Sea last week. Still, vessels continued to transport commodities.

The Ukrainian government has struck deals with partners to supply the country with air defence systems to protect the Odesa region, Zelensky said. “There are positive signals, the corridor is functioning. I hope we will increase its operation and ensure safety,” he added. DM

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