The head of USAid has accused Vladimir Putin of making a “life and death decision” affecting millions of the world’s poorest people by withdrawing from the year-old UN-brokered deal that let Ukraine export grain through the Black Sea.
Speaking in the shadow of several vast grain silos in the key trading port of Odesa, Samantha Power pledged a further $250m to create and expand alternative routes for Ukrainian grain to leave the country, but admitted nothing would compensate for the loss of the Black Sea ports.
Her visit came after Russia carried out a series of missile and drone strikes on southern and eastern Ukraine overnight. Most of the missiles were shot down but falling debris damaged some infrastructure in Odesa port.
Russia had vowed to retaliate after a blast on a bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula on Monday. Moscow accused Ukraine of attacking the Kerch Bridge, used to transport military supplies to Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014.
“In recent weeks Russia began blocking ships from entering this port, and yesterday Putin made the reckless and dangerous decision to end Russian participation in the Black Sea grain initiative,” Power said. “Putin decided to cut off a vital lifeline to the rest of the world, and overnight and this morning Russian forces fired drones and cruise missiles not far from where we are standing right now.”
She said Putin’s justification for pulling out of the agreement was full of “falsehood and lies” and the decision would have a huge impact on the least developed countries, including Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia.
“This is a life and death decision that Putin has made … Vladimir Putin might be willing to inflict this humanitarian pain on innocents but the US is not,” she said.
Power called on other governments, philanthropists and the private sector to match the US contribution by raising an additional $250m.
The Ukrainian minister for infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, who was accompanying Power, said he was still hopeful of brokering an agreement with Turkey and the UN that would allow the shipments to continue.
Russia has said it could return to the grain deal but only if its demands are met for rules to be eased for its own exports of food and fertiliser.
The mayor of Odesa, Gennadiy Trukhanov, said in an interview at Odesa’s grand city administration building that even when the grain deal was active, the city’s port had been working at a maximum of 15% of its prewar capacity. He said most of the 4,000 people who worked at the port had lost their jobs since the start of the war.
Trukhanov said the cruise missile strikes in the early hours of Tuesday were
“a very crude signal from the Russians to make sure no further ships leave from the port. I can’t imagine there’s any captain who would risk missile strikes and dock here with no guarantees”. The Kremlin said the strikes were in retaliation for Monday’s bridge attack.
Ukraine’s air force said six Kalibr missiles and 31 of 36 drones were shot down. Odesa has often been attacked since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The latest strikes were “further proof that the country-terrorist wants to endanger the lives of 400 million people in various countries that depend on Ukrainian food exports”, Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential staff, said on Telegram.
Moscow, for its part, said it had foiled a Ukrainian drone strike on Crimea, with no major damage on the ground, and reopened a single lane of road traffic on the Kerch Bridge.
Ukraine’s foreign minister indicated that Kyiv was willing to give Turkey time to see if it could negotiate Russia’s return to the Black Sea grain deal, but said a way must be found within days to export Ukrainian grain on to the world markets.
Dymytro Kuleba said very intensive consultations would be held “in the next hours and days”, adding that Russia’s warning Ukrainian ships would not be protected is “a clear threat formulated in a legally neutral way. What it means is that Russia does not guarantee the safety of any ship that tries to carry Ukrainian cereals from Ukrainian ports to the Bosphorus. We have to understand that as long as Russia is in Crimea and believes it can blackmail and impose its will on anyone, these problems will continue. The best way to solve the problem actually is to defeat Russia and make them withdraw”.
He added: “If Turkey wants to have another round of conversations with Russia about the commitment of Russia to the deal that it signed with Turkey, we are fine with that.”
Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow’s termination of the deal meant the “withdrawal of navigation safety guarantees, curtailment of the maritime humanitarian corridor, and restoration of the regime of a temporarily dangerous area in the north-western Black Sea”.
“Without appropriate security guarantees, certain risks arise here,” the Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
Were a new arrangement to allow for exports “formalised without Russia, then these risks should be taken into account”, Peskov said.
The Russian government added it would send its food to the poorest countries in Africa for free.
At previous points when the grain deal was close to collapsing, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has persuaded Putin to back down by threatening to send the Turkish navy to escort grain ships out of Ukrainian ports, but positions may now be more entrenched.
With Poland saying it would maintain an embargo on Ukrainian grain to protect its own farmers, it becomes even more urgent that Ukrainian grain can use sea routes.
The Italian prime minister, Georgia Meloni, gave one of the toughest responses to the end of the deal, saying: “Russia’s decision to terminate the grain deal shows who is a friend and who is an enemy of the poorest states. The leaders of nations who don’t distinguish between the attacked and the aggressor should reflect. Using hunger as a weapon is another crime against humanity.”
Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s Africa and development minister, said: “We should make it clear that the impact of what Russia is doing is directly leading to people starving in Africa.”
Source : TheGuardian