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Russian missiles target Odesa day after Ukraine grain export deal

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia fired several missiles at the port of Odesa on Saturday, Ukrainian authorities said, raising the question of whether Moscow would abide by a crucial deal struck Friday to unblock Ukraine’s seaports to allow for the transport of millions of tons of grain needed to feed countries in Africa and the Middle East. 

“The enemy attacked the Odesa maritime trade port with winged ‘Kalibr’ cruise missiles,” the Ukrainian military’s Southern Operation Command reported on Facebook. “2 rockets were shot down by air defense forces. 2 hit the port infrastructure facilities.”

As photos and videos of black smoke rising from the port circulated on social media, it was not immediately clear how the attack would impact the grain export agreement. But Ukrainian officials and politicians said it was more of the same from Russian President Vladimir Putin and called for Western partners to provide Ukraine with air-defense systems.

“It took less than 24 hours for Russia to launch a missile attack on Odesa’s port, breaking its promises and undermining its commitments before the UN and Turkey under the Istanbul agreement,” Ukraine Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko tweeted. “In case of non-fulfillment, Russia will bear full responsibility for global food crisis,” he said. 

“Give Ukraine weapons to protect Odesa,” tweeted Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko. “Anti air defence, fighters, anti ship missiles. Russia understands only force.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on Twitter that “the Russians are systematically creating a food crisis doing everything to make people suffer.”

“Famine terror continues. The world must act,” Yermak said. “The best food safety guarantees are twofold: effective sanctions against Russia and more weapons for Ukraine.”

U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Bridget Brink called the Russian attack “outrageous.” 

“The Kremlin continues to weaponize food,” Brink tweeted. “Russia must be held to account.”

The grain export agreement is meant to reopen Ukraine’s seaports and guarantee safe passage for the ships carrying Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea to import-dependent nations.

Kyiv made clear on Friday that the agreement was not a political one. Ukraine’s infrastructure minister and Russia’s defense minister signed separate documents with the U.N. and Turkey, vowing to hold up their ends of the accord.

The deal allows for the creation of a “control center” in Istanbul, which will coordinate and monitor the grain exports.

At a press conference in Istanbul after the accord was signed, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres celebrated by calling it “an agreement for the world.” 

“It will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine. It will help stabilize global food prices which were already at record-levels even before the war,” he said.

But even before the ink on the deal dried, Western and Ukrainian officials expressed concern about whether Russia would stick to it.

“That’s all you should know about Russians and agreements,” Ukraine’s Goncharenko said on Saturday. “[Putin] is weaponising everything.”

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