Ukraine said on Monday that it hoped a United Nations-brokered agreement aimed at alleviating global food shortages by resuming grain shipments from the Black Sea region will be implemented this week.

Concerns that a Russian missile strike on Ukraine’s port of Odesa on Saturday could undermine the agreement were dismissed by Moscow, which said the strike targeted only military equipment. Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, called the act “barbarism” and said it demonstrated that Moscow cannot be trusted.

Some of the most far-reaching consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are a global wheat crisis and skyrocketing European energy prices, endangering millions in poorer countries with hunger and raising concerns in Europe about heating supplies this winter.

On Friday, officials from Ukraine, Russia, the United Nations, and Turkey agreed that there would be no attacks on merchant ships transiting the Black Sea through Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait and on to markets, and they promised to establish a monitoring center.

A senior Ukrainian government official said the first grain cargo from Ukraine, a key world supplier, may leave Chornomorsk this week, with shipments from other ports named in the agreement following in two weeks.

“We believe that over the next 24 hours we will be ready to work to resume exports from our ports,” deputy infrastructure minister Yuriy Vaskov said at a press briefing.

The Ukrainian military reported significant Russian bombardment in eastern Ukraine overnight as the war entered its sixth month. According to the report, Moscow is continuing to plan an assault on Bakhmut in the industrial Donbas region, which Russia hopes to conquer on behalf of separatist proxies.

Ukraine said it has deployed HIMARS rocket systems supplied by the US to target 50 Russian munitions stockpiles since acquiring the weapons last month. Russia did not respond immediately, but its Defense Ministry stated that its soldiers destroyed an ammunition store for HIMARS systems.

EXPORTS OF GRAIN

Since Moscow’s February 24 incursion, Russia’s Black Sea fleet has restricted grain supplies from Ukraine. A United Nations official described Friday’s accord, the conflict’s first diplomatic breakthrough, as a “de facto ceasefire” for the ships and facilities included by the agreement.

Moscow claims blame for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for impeding food and fertilizer supplies, as well as Ukraine for mining the entrances to its ports, for the situation. Pilots will guide ships along safe corridors under the agreement reached on Friday.

Ukraine’s military said two Kalibr missiles fired from Russian warships on Saturday hit an area near an Odesa port pumping station, while two others were shot down by air defense forces. They did not inflict any serious harm to the grain storage facility.

Russia claimed that precise missiles were used to strike a Ukrainian warship and a weapons storage near Odesa.

“This should not affect – and will not affect – the beginning of shipments,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

During a tour to numerous African countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that there were no barriers to grain exports and that nothing in the agreement prevented Moscow from attacking Ukraine’s military assets.

Peskov also hinted that Russian natural gas exports to Europe, which resumed last week at restricted volumes, could shortly increase.

Diplomats from the European Union, which has backed the United States in putting sanctions on Russia while continuing to buy its gas, were scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss targets for member states to reduce their gas use. Russia has decreased shipments to Europe as a result of the sanctions.

Peskov stated that the installation of a turbine rebuilt by Canada would allow gas to be supplied to Europe in “corresponding volumes” but that other repairs to the pipeline, which was shut down for 10 days this month for maintenance, were required.

Due to the uncertainties surrounding the grain agreement, global wheat prices surged substantially on Monday, erasing most of the losses observed on Friday, when traders expected supply constraints to ease.

Russia and Ukraine accounted for approximately one-third of world wheat exports prior to the invasion and ensuing sanctions. For the grain deal to function, Peskov said the UN must ensure that restrictions on Russian fertilizer and other exports are eliminated.

Source: Reuters

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