KYIV, Oct 30 - Russia resumed its blockade of Ukrainian ports on Sunday, cutting off urgently needed grain exports to hungry parts of the world in what U.S. President Joe Biden called a “really outrageous” act.
Biden warned that global hunger could increase because of Russia’s suspension of a U.N.-brokered deal to allow safe passage of ships carrying grain from Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets, The Associated Press reported.
“It’s really outrageous,” Biden said Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware. “There’s no merit to what they’re doing. The U.N. negotiated that deal and that should be the end of it.”
Biden spoke hours after Russia announced it would immediately halt participation in the grain deal, alleging that Ukraine staged a drone attack Saturday against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet off the coast of occupied Crimea. Ukraine has denied the attack, saying that Russia mishandled its own weapons.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry reported Sunday that 218 ships involved in grain exports have been blocked — 22 loaded and stuck at ports, 95 loaded and departed from ports, and 101 awaiting inspections.
One of the blocked ships, carrying 40,000 tons of wheat for Ethiopia under a U.N. aid program, could not leave Ukraine on Sunday as a result of Russia’s “blockage of the grain corridor,” Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure, said on Twitter. The ship, Ikaria Angel, was stuck in the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk.
The Istanbul-based UN center coordinating the ship passages later said the Ikaria Angel was among six vessels that began moving out but hadn’t yet entered a humanitarian corridor. The center reported on plans to move and inspect other ships on Monday but it wasn’t clear whether Russia would agree.
The grain initiative — an example of rare wartime cooperation between Ukraine and Russia — has allowed more than 9 million tons of grain in 397 ships to safely leave Ukrainian ports since it was signed in July. U.N. chief António Guterres had urged Russia and Ukraine on Friday to renew the deal when it expires Nov. 19. The grain agreement has brought down global food prices about 15% from their peak in March, according to the U.N.
President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed outrage at Russia’s decision. Referring to the Ikaria Angel, he said in his nightly video address Sunday, “This bulk ship with wheat for the U.N. food program and other vessels with agricultural products are forced to wait, because Russia is blackmailing the world with hunger.”
Two initiatives to revive the grain deal were reported Sunday.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was in talks with his counterparts to “solve the problem and to continue the grain initiative,” his agency said, adding that no more grain ships would leave Ukraine but those already waiting near Istanbul would be inspected on Sunday or Monday.
At the United Nations in New York, Guterres delayed a trip by a day to engage in talks aimed at ending Russia’s suspension of the grain export deal. Russia also requested a meeting Monday of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the topic.
Analysts say Russia’s withdrawal shows that it sees the grain deal as another way to pressure Ukraine.
“By leaving the deal now and putting the blame on Ukraine, it aims to slow Ukrainian attacks around the Black Sea,” said Mario Bikarski, a Economist Intelligence Unit analyst. Russia could be hoping that Ukraine’s Western allies might ask it to focus its forces elsewhere to save the grain deal, he said.
More conflicting details emerged Sunday about the alleged attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
The city council of Mariupol, a Ukrainian port now controlled by Russia, claimed on Telegram that Ukrainian special services had destroyed at least three Russian warships near the city of Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
But an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry claimed that the Russians’ “careless handling of explosives” had caused blasts on four Russian warships. Anton Gerashchenko wrote on Telegram that the vessels included a frigate, a landing ship and a ship that carried cruise missiles. (ap/ez)