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Russia has warned that it will treat all ships heading to Ukraine’s ports as military threats, signaling its intention to re-impose a naval blockade on Ukraine in a move that sent grain futures prices soaring in Europe and the United States.
The announcement followed Russia’s decision this week to withdraw from last year’s UN-brokered deal to allow grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea region to continue despite the war.
Since then, Moscow has ratcheted up pressure on the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, launching a second night of attacks on what is the hub for most of the country’s grain exports.
“All ships destined for Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea waters will be considered as carrying possible military cargo,” the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday. “The countries whose flags these ships fly will be considered countries involved in the Ukrainian conflict on the side of Kiev.”
Paris-based Euronext wheat, corn and rapeseed futures hit multi-month highs, closing down 7.8, 5.7 and 5.6 percent, respectively. Chicago wheat futures rose nearly 8 percent to $7.25 a bushel. Traders said the joint request of Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia to the EU to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports beyond the September deadline also pushed prices higher.
Ukrainian officials described the nightly attack on Odessa as an attempt by Moscow to choke off grain exports to global food markets. It followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vow to punish Kiev for a drone attack on Monday that destroyed the Crimean bridge linking the occupied peninsula with Russian territory, which Moscow blamed on Ukraine.
“It was the most hellish night,” Serhiy Prachuk, a spokesman for the military department in Odessa, said in a video speech on Wednesday. Footage posted on social media showed huge explosions rocking one of Ukraine’s most cosmopolitan cities before Putin launched his all-out invasion just over 500 days ago.
The Ukrainian Air Force said that 37 of the 63 missiles and drones that were targeting “critical infrastructure and military facilities” were intercepted, adding that Odessa was the main target.
Oleg Kipper, the governor of Odessa, said that “dozens of missiles and attack drones” hit the area.
He added that “the bombing of a grain and oil station” in addition to damage to civilian buildings, hotels and tourist sites as a result of falling debris, which led to the injury of at least six civilians. In Chornomorsk, south of Odessa, grain export infrastructure was also destroyed, Mykola Solsky, Ukraine’s minister of agriculture, said.
Mykhailo Podolak, an advisor in the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said that Russia had “deliberately and intentionally bombed grain terminals and other port facilities . . . to destroy the possibility of Ukrainian grain shipment”.
In his tweet, Podolak asked if the UN Command would take action against the “deliberate terrorist act committed by the Russian Federation against the World Food Programme”.
“Does this determine whether there will be hunger in some of your countries?” Zelensky said in an interview with African journalists who were released on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s armed forces have announced incremental gains in a counter-offensive launched early last month that has struggled to liberate the eastern and southern regions from Russian forces.
Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said the days-long Russian offensive on the northeastern town of Kobyansk had failed, adding that “the initiative is now on our side.”
She and other military officials claimed small, unspecified gains near the bombed eastern city of Bakhmut and in the southern frontline areas north of the Sea of Azov.
Sergei Aksionov, the Russian leader of Crimea, announced the evacuation of more than 2,000 people and the closure of a highway near a military training ground where explosions raged for several hours overnight. He did not provide an explanation as to what caused what appeared to be a detonation of a weapons depot, and Ukrainian officials did not take credit for the attack on the site.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had received a report of the fire. “Measures are being taken and the situation is clearing up,” he said.