Russia has suspended its participation in a landmark agreement that allowed vital grain exports from Ukraine after what it said was a drone attack on Russian ships in occupied Crimea.
Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine attacked the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol in the annexed Crimean Peninsula with 16 drones in the early hours of Saturday, and that British navy “specialists” had helped coordinate the “terrorist” attack. London bluntly rejected Moscow’s claim.
The Turkey and UN-brokered deal to unlock grain exports signed between Russia and Ukraine in July is critical to easing the global food crisis caused by the conflict.
The agreement has already allowed more than 9 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain to be exported and was due to be renewed on November 19.
“The Russian side suspends participation in the implementation of agreements on the export of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
Russia said the step, which will cut Ukrainian grain exports from its crucial Black Sea ports, was taken due to the drone attack and the participation of British specialists.
Sevastopol, which has been targeted several times in recent months, serves as the headquarters for the fleet and a logistical hub for operations in Ukraine.
The Russian army claimed to have “destroyed” nine aerial drones and seven maritime ones in an attack on the port early on Saturday.
Moscow’s forces alleged British “specialists”, who they said were based in the southern Ukrainian city of Ochakiv, had helped prepare and train Kyiv to carry out the attack.
In a further singling out of the UK – which Moscow sees as one of the most hostile Western countries – Russia said the same British unit was involved in explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month.
The UK strongly rebutted both claims, saying “the Russian Ministry of Defence is resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale”.
Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow would raise the blasts and the alleged drone attack at the United Nations Security Council.
The British Ministry of Defence said this “invented story says more about arguments going on inside the Russian Government than it does about the West”.
Moscow’s military said ships targeted at their Crimean base were involved in the UN-brokered grain deal.
Russia had recently criticised the deal, saying its grain exports have suffered due to Western sanctions.
Russia’s decision “proves once again that negotiations with the Russian Federation are a waste of time”, a top Ukrainian official said.
“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin has turned food, the cold and prices into weapons against the world … Russia is waging a hybrid war against Europe, taking Africa and the Middle East hostage,” presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
The UN also called for the preservation of the agreement.
“It is vital that all parties refrain from any action that would imperil the Black Sea Grain Initiative which is a critical humanitarian effort,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, underscoring the initiative was “having a positive impact” on food access for millions worldwide.
He said the UN chief’s office was in touch with Russian authorities over the issue.