Russia’s Foreign Ministry said separately that due to the attack “the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative will no longer be guaranteed and its implementation will be suspended for an indefinite period from today.”
Britain has responded to allegations of drone strikes by saying Russia is making “false claims of epic proportions”. Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility for the attack.
A video that surfaced on Ukrainian Telegram channels on Saturday showed a navy drone targeting the Russian Admiral Makarov warship. The Makarov reportedly replaced the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet Moskva, which was sunk in April after Ukrainian forces hit it with Neptune anti-ship missiles. The Washington Post could not independently verify the authenticity of this video.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the drone attack was largely repelled and only one minesweeper suffered minor damage.
Moscow and Kyiv signed a grain deal in July that opened Ukrainian Black Sea ports for exports, which were halted after Russia invaded the country on February 24.
Turkey, which has close ties to Russia and Ukraine, played a key role in brokering the deal and has sought to raise its diplomatic profile to mediate talks between the warring parties.
As part of the agreement, Ukrainian pilots guided ships through the port, to prevent Russia from seizing key ports such as Odessa, which Ukraine mined behind the war. The United States and Ukraine accuse the Russian navy of laying mines near the Ukrainian coast.
The ships were then given safe passage to sail to Turkey by the Russian military, who organized teams with experts from all stakeholders to inspect the ships before they left for their destinations. Ships bound for Ukraine were also inspected for weapons, a condition for Moscow to ensure that the grain corridor could not be used to supply Western arms to Ukraine.
More than 8 million tons of grain have been exported from Ukraine as part of a deal that has seen global food prices fall, according to the United Nations.
“It is essential that all parties refrain from any action that undermines the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a critical humanitarian effort that will positively impact access to food for millions of people around the world,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a statement.
Negotiations on an extension of the agreement had been strained even before the ship attack, with Moscow indicating it could withdraw from the agreement after repeated complaints about its implementation.
In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of limiting the deal, saying goods went to the European Union instead of poor countries suffering dire food shortages.
Erdogan echoed Putin’s complaints, adding that he would like to see Russia export grain.
“Grain shipments are going to countries that enforce these sanctions [against Moscow] Troubles Mr. Putin. We want grain shipments from Russia to start,” Erdogan said at a news conference. “The grain that comes as part of this grain deal unfortunately goes to rich countries, not poor countries.”
After an explosion on a strategic bridge connecting Crimea with the Russian mainland in early October, Putin speculated that the grain corridor might have been used by Ukrainian special services to attack the highly symbolic gateway. He suggested that if proved, the agreement would be compromised.
Putin blamed Kyiv for the attack on the strategic Crimean bridge
Later in October, Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, lamented that Russian-flagged ships could not be accepted in European ports due to sanctions and difficulties in obtaining insurance and financing for Russian grain and fertilizer shipments.
Ukraine accused Moscow of not fully implementing the agreement. In one of his late-night speeches last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was “deliberately delaying the passage of ships,” creating an artificial backlog of more than 150 ships.
Zelensky said the situation with Ukraine’s food exports was becoming “more and more tense” and that Moscow was “doing everything to slow down” the process.
“With these measures, I believe that Russia is deliberately provoking a food crisis so that it will be severe in the first half of this year,” Zelensky said.
Last week, Ukraine accused Russia of blocking full implementation of the deal, saying Ukrainian ports were recently operating at 25-30 percent of their capacity.
“Russia is deliberately blocking the full realization of the Grain Initiative,” the country’s infrastructure ministry said at the time.
In a tweet on Saturday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow was using a “false pretext” to prevent Ukraine from exporting its grain and other agricultural products.
“We have warned of Russian plans to sabotage the Black Sea grain initiative,” Kuleba wrote. He called on the world community to force “Russia to stop its hunger games and return to its obligations.”
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said Moscow was engaged in “blackmail” using food products, energy and nuclear material, which he described as “primitive”.
David Stern contributed to this report.