Moscow halts grain deal after building bridge to Crimea Ship’s crew

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Russia on Monday halted its participation in the year-old United Nations-brokered deal that allows Ukraine to export grain across the Black Sea, just hours after a blast destroyed Russia’s bridge to Crimea, which Moscow described as denoted an attack by Ukrainian sea drones.

According to Russia, two civilians were killed and their daughter injured in what Moscow described as a terrorist attack on the road bridge, a main artery of Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.

The Kremlin said there was no connection between the attack and its decision to suspend the grain deal because it failed to meet its calls to implement a parallel deal to relax rules on its own food and fertilizer exports.

“Indeed, the Black Sea agreements have expired today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call. “Unfortunately, the part of these Black Sea agreements that affects Russia has not yet been implemented, so its effect has ended.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who supports the grain deal, said he still believes Putin wants a continuation. The foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey would talk later Monday, he told reporters.

“I hope that we can make some progress with this discussion and continue on our way without a break,” Erdogan said.

Russia’s foreign ministry said it would consider rejoining the grain deal if it saw “concrete results” on its demands.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed the prospect of resuming grain exports without Russia’s involvement and indicated that Kiev would seek Turkey’s support to effectively lift the Russian de facto blockade imposed last year.

“Even without the Russian Federation, everything must be done so that we can use this Black Sea corridor. We are not afraid,” spokesman Serhiy Nykyforov quoted Zelenskyj as saying.

“We were approached by companies and shipowners. They said they were ready. If Ukraine lets them go and Turkey keeps letting them through, then everyone is ready to keep delivering grain.”

The blast on the Crimea road bridge could directly affect Moscow’s ability to resupply its troops in southern Ukraine and shows the vulnerability of Russia’s Black Sea infrastructure to devices such as sea drones: small, fast, remote-controlled boats loaded with explosives.

Pictures showed part of the road bridge had collapsed, halting traffic in both directions, although a parallel rail bridge was still operational. Before dawn, explosions were reported on the 12-mile (19-kilometer) bridge that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered to be built after the peninsula was conquered and annexed by Ukraine in 2014.

Kiev did not give an official report on the blasts, but Ukrainian media quoted unidentified officials as saying that the Ukrainian Security Service was behind it. Ukraine has long claimed the bridge was built illegally and that its use by Russia for military supplies makes it a legitimate target. It was last hit by a massive explosion and fire in October.

Any disruption to exports due to Russia’s suspension of the Black Sea Grains Agreement could push up food prices around the world, particularly in the poorest countries. Ukraine and Russia are both among the world’s largest exporters of grain and other food products.

When the grain deal was negotiated by the United Nations and Turkey last year, it was hailed as averting a global food emergency, halting a virtual blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia.

Global food prices rose on Monday, albeit on a limited scale, suggesting traders were not yet anticipating a severe supply crisis. The Chicago Board of Trade’s most active wheat Wv1 contract rose 3.0% to 6.81-3/4 a bushel at 1056 GMT after rising over 4% earlier.

Putin last week threatened to pull out of the grain deal while saying Russia could return to the deal “immediately” if his demands were met.

Western countries say Russia is trying to use its influence on the grain deal to relax financial sanctions that don’t apply to Russian agricultural exports.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Russia’s suspension of the deal a “cynical move” and said the EU will continue trying to secure food for poor countries.

WITHOUT RUSSIA?

Russia has agreed to extend the Black Sea Agreement three times in the past year, despite repeated threats to pull out. After an attack on its fleet by sea-based Ukrainian drones in October, participation was suspended, resulting in Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations maintaining exports without Moscow for a few days.

Denys Marchuk, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council, the main agribusiness organization in Ukraine, said sea exports could resume without Russia’s approval.

“If our partners give security guarantees, why not go ahead with the grain initiative without Russia’s involvement?” he told Reuters.

Such a resumption without Russia’s blessing would likely depend on insurers. Industry sources told Reuters they are evaluating whether to freeze their coverage.

“Some insurers will try to take advantage of this by raising tariffs sharply. Others will stop offering protection. The (key) question is whether Russia mines the area, which would result in no insurance coverage being offered,” said an insurance industry source.

The balance of sea power has shifted since Russia imposed its blockade in the early months of the war. Kiev, which had no comparable fleet of its own, managed to sink Russia’s flagship, recapture the rocky outcrop of Snake Island overlooking the shipping lanes, and drone attack the Russian Black Sea Fleet in port.

The latest blast on Russia’s bridge to Crimea follows months of Ukrainian attacks on Russian supply lines as Kiev launches a counteroffensive to drive Russian troops out of its territory.

Images showed that a section of road on the bridge had split and tilted to one side, with the metal barriers buckled. Dashcam footage showed drivers braking hard shortly after the incident.

Russian officials said a Russian Su-25 fighter-bomber crashed into the Sea of ​​Azov on Monday, but the pilot successfully ejected and there were no signs of an attack. The bridge to the Crimea spans the mouth of this sea.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow, Max Hunder in Kiev and Reuters offices, text by Peter Graff, editing by Philippa Fletcher)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.

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