Europe

Russia blows up Black Sea port hours after confirming 'peace talks' with Turkey

Vladimir Putin will make a diplomatic trip to Turkey in the coming weeks to- his first visit to a Nato-affiliated country since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the visit and told Putin that ‘no steps should be taken that will escalate tensions in the Russia-Ukraine war,’ emphasising the significance of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which he called a ‘bridge for peace.’

However, the news comes as Russia today attacked Ukraine’s main inland port across the Danube River from Romania, sending global food prices even higher as it ramps up its use of force to prevent Ukraine from exporting grain.

The attacks destroyed buildings in the port of Izmail and halted ships as they prepared to arrive there to load up with Ukrainian grain in defiance of a de-facto blockade Russia reimposed in mid-July.

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the Russian drone attacks damaged almost 40,000 tons of grains which had been destined for countries in Africa as well as China and Israel.

‘Russian terrorists have once again attacked ports, grain, global food security,’ President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Telegram.

Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain exporters. Russia has attacked its agricultural and port infrastructure for more than two weeks after refusing to extend an agreement that had lifted its war-time blockade of Ukrainian ports last year.

The port, across the river from NATO-member Romania, is the main alternative route out of Ukraine for grain exports, since Russia’s blockade halted traffic at Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in mid-July.

Following the conversation with Erdogan, the Kremlin reiterated Russia’s condition for rejoining the grain deal: that a parallel deal improving terms for its own food and fertiliser exports be implemented. 

Those exports are already exempt from sanctions, which the West says Moscow aims to undermine by threatening the global food supply.

Erdogan’s office said he and Putin agreed that the Russian leader would soon visit Turkey.

Putin, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, has made no official visits abroad this year, and has left former Soviet territory only once since launching his invasion – a day trip to Tehran more than a year ago. Erdogan has long said he hopes to host Putin and convince him to rejoin the grain deal.

Moscow has described recent attacks on Ukraine’s grain infrastructure as retaliation for a Ukrainian strike on a bridge across the Kerch Strait to Crimea used to supply its troops in southern Ukraine.

U.S. ambassador Bridget Brink condemned the attacks in a statement, listing recent Russian targets: ‘Homes. Ports. Grain silos. Historic buildings. Men. Women. Children.

‘Round-the-clock and intensifying Russian strikes on Kryvyi Rih, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Kherson make it clear once again Russia has no desire for peace, no thought for civilian safety, and no regard for people around the world who rely on food from Ukraine.’

Kyiv says the goal of the strikes is to reimpose Russia’s blockade by persuading shippers and their insurance companies that Ukrainian ports are unsafe to resume exports.

Ukraine’s Danube river ports such as Izmail accounted for around a quarter of grain exports before Russia pulled out of the Black Sea deal, and have since become the main route out, with grain loaded onto barges and shipped to Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta for shipment onwards.

Kyiv’s goal is for international ships to go straight there and load up directly, while Moscow says it will treat ships heading to Ukrainian seaports as potential military targets.

The United Nations has warned of a potential food crisis in the world’s poorest countries due to Russia’s decision to abandon the deal, brokered by the U.N. and Turkey.

Ukrainian officials say Moscow has hit 26 port facilities, five civilian vessels and 180,000 tonnes of grain in nine days of strikes since quitting the grain deal.

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