Three more ships leave Ukrainian ports under deal despite Russian suspension

The statement said the ships' movement was agreed by the Ukrainian, Turkish and UN delegations at the Istanbul-based center and the Russian delegation had been informed.

Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet logistics support ship Vsevolod Bobrov sails in the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, January 7, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/YORUK ISIK)
Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet logistics support ship Vsevolod Bobrov sails in the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, January 7, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/YORUK ISIK)

Three outbound vessels left Ukrainian ports by midday on Tuesday under the Black Sea grain export deal, the United Nations-led coordination center said, the second day of sailings after Russia suspended participation in the initiative.

The statement said the ships' movement was agreed by the Ukrainian, Turkish and UN delegations at the Istanbul-based center and the Russian delegation had been informed.

It said the UN coordinator for the grain initiative, Amir Abdulla, continued discussions with all three member state parties in an effort to resume full participation at the center that oversees safe passage of vessels.

UN reports on Russia's claims of attack

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Monday that there were no ships involved in a UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal transiting a maritime humanitarian corridor on the night of Oct. 29, when Russia says its vessels in the Bay of Sevastopol in Crimea were attacked.

Russia said 16 air and maritime drones attacked civilian and Black Sea Fleet vessels in the Bay of Sevastopol in Crimea at 4:20 a.m. Kyiv time on Saturday. Russia said all nine of the air drones were destroyed.

Four of the seven maritime drones were destroyed on the outer perimeter of the bay, but three more made it inside before they were destroyed, Russia said.

Russia reported minor damage to the minesweeper Ivan Golubets, the ministry said.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify battlefield accounts.

 A view shows a fire on the Kerch bridge at sunrise in the Kerch Strait, Crimea, October 8, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER) A view shows a fire on the Kerch bridge at sunrise in the Kerch Strait, Crimea, October 8, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

Unverified footage on social media showed what appeared to be maritime drones speeding across the water towards a Russian battleship while bullets were fired at the drone.

Who carried out the attack?

Russia's defense ministry said the attack was carried out by Ukraine's 73rd Marine Special Operations Center under the guidance and leadership of British navy specialists in the town of Ochakiv on the Black Sea coast.

"To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defence is resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale."

British Ministry of Defence Spokesperson

It said that personnel from the same British navy unit, which it did not name, had blown up the Nord Stream pipelines last month.

Britain denied the claim.

"To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defence is resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale," a spokesperson for Britain's ministry of defense said.

"This latest invented story says more about the arguments going on inside the Russian Government than it does about the West."

Ukraine has neither denied nor confirmed that it carried out the drone attack on Sevastopol and has instead suggested that Russia carried out the attack on itself so that it could suspend participation in the grain deal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said Russia had carried out "fictitious terrorist attacks on its own facilities."

Neither Russia nor Ukraine has provided evidence for their claims.

Where did the drones come from?

Russia says it has recovered the wreckage of some of the maritime drones. It said it had investigated the memory of the Canadian-made navigation modules installed on the drones.

The maritime drones, it said, were launched from the coast near Odesa and had moved along the grain corridor security zone before heading into the Bay of Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The defense ministry said one of the maritime drones appeared to have started from within the security zone of the grain corridor itself.

"This may indicate the preliminary launch of this device from aboard one of the civilian vessels chartered by Kyiv or its Western patrons for the export of agricultural products from the seaports of Ukraine," the defense ministry said.

What happened to the grain deal?

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, halted its role in the Black Sea deal on Saturday for an "indefinite term" because it could said it could not "guarantee safety of civilian ships" traveling under the pact after an attack on its Black Sea fleet.

The United Nations and Turkey, two main brokers of the July deal, scrambled on Sunday to save it. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was deeply concerned about Russia's move and delayed a foreign trip to try and revive the agreement that was intended to ease a global food crisis, his spokesperson said.

Following Russia's move, wheat prices on international commodities markets were expected to leap on Monday as both Russia and Ukraine are among the world's largest wheat exporters, analysts said.

More than 9.5 million tonnes of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soy have been exported since July. Under the deal, a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) - made up of UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials - agrees on the movement of ships and inspects the vessels.

No ships moved through the established maritime humanitarian corridor on Sunday. But the United Nations said in a statement that it had agreed with Ukraine and Turkey on a movement plan for 16 vessels on Monday - 12 outbound and 4 inbound.

It said the Russian officials at the JCC had been told about the plan, along with the intention to inspect 40 outbound vessels on Monday, and noted that "all participants coordinate with their respective military and other relevant authorities to ensure the safe passage of commercial vessels" under the deal.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was in contact with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts to try and salvage the agreement and had asked the parties to avoid any provocation, the Turkish defense ministry said.

NATO and the European Union have urged Russia to reconsider its decision. US President Joe Biden on Saturday called Russia's move "purely outrageous" and said it would increase starvation. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of weaponizing food.

On Sunday, Russia's ambassador to Washington, snapped back, saying the US response was "outrageous" and made false assertions about Moscow's move.

Turkey's response

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told Ukraine's defense and infrastructure ministers that keeping the Black Sea grain export deal going was important and that, as a humanitarian initiative, it should be kept separate from the conflict in Ukraine.

Akar's comments, released in a statement by his ministry on Tuesday, followed Russia's suspension of its participation in the deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July and aimed at keeping food commodities flowing to world markets.

Akar also told his Russian counterpart on Monday that Moscow should re-evaluate its decision.