UN and EU plead for supplies to be allowed to continue for food security
Russia has suspended its participation in a landmark agreement that allowed grain exports from Ukraine, blaming drone attacks on Russian ships in Crimea.
The Russian Defense Ministry cited an alleged Ukrainian drone attack against Russia's Black Sea fleet ships moored off the coast of occupied Crimea, which Russia says took place early on Saturday, as the reason for the move. Ukraine has denied the attack.
The Russian declaration on Saturday came a day after United Nations chief Antonio Guterres urged Russia and Ukraine to renew the deal. Guterres also urged other countries, mainly in the West, to expedite the removal of obstacles blocking Russian grain and fertilizer exports.
The deal in July to unlock grain exports signed between Russia and Ukraine and brokered by Turkiye and the UN is critical to easing the global food crisis caused by the conflict. The agreement has allowed more than 9 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain to be exported and was due to be renewed on Nov 19.
Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said that before his country discusses a renewal "Russia needs to see the export of its grain and fertilizers in the world market, which has never happened since the beginning of the deal".
Earlier on Saturday, Ukraine and Russia offered differing versions of a drone attack in Crimea in which at least one Russian ship suffered damage in Sevastopol.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a minesweeper had suffered "minor damage" during an alleged pre-dawn Ukrainian attack on navy and civilian vessels docked in Sevastopol, which hosts the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea fleet. The ministry said Russian forces had "repelled" 16 attacking drones.
An adviser to Ukraine's Interior Ministry said such "careless handling of explosives" had caused blasts on four warships in Russia's Black Sea fleet. Anton Gerashchenko said the vessels included a frigate, a landing ship and a ship that carried cruise missiles used in a deadly attack on a western Ukrainian city in July.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Guterres, said: "It is vital that all parties refrain from any action that would imperil the Black Sea grain initiative, which is a critical humanitarian effort."
The European Union supports UN-led efforts to keep the Ukraine grain deal alive, a spokeswoman said on Saturday in response to Russia's suspension of its participation in the agreement.
"We ... stress that all parties must refrain from any unilateral action that would imperil the Black Sea grain initiative, which is a critical humanitarian effort that is clearly having a positive impact on access to food for millions of people around the world," said Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy at the European Commission.
Russia and Ukraine carried out the latest in a series of prisoner exchanges on Saturday, with both sides returning about 50 people, officials in Moscow and Kyiv said.
In the swap, 52 Ukrainians, including two former defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, were released, said Andriy Yermak, an official in Ukraine's presidential office.
Among those released were the head of the surgical department of the military hospital in Mariupol, who was in Azovstal, and a young military surgeon, Yermak said.
Also released, he said, was a sailor who defended Ukraine's Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outpost seized by Russia in the opening hours of the conflict. Others coming home were Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russia near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986. Ukraine handed over 50 prisoners after talks, Russia's defense ministry said.
On Saturday Russia's defense ministry accused British navy personnel of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month, directly implicating a leading NATO member in the sabotage of critical Russian infrastructure.
"According to available information, representatives of this unit of the British Navy took part in the planning, provision and implementation of a terrorist attack in the Baltic Sea on Sept 26 …, blowing up the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines," the ministry said.