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Port of Odessa: Russia shows its true colors by attacking after grain export deal with Ukraine

Immediately after signatures by Russia, Ukraine and intermediate Turkey, the UN secretary-general said the deal offered a “glimmer of hope”, heralding food aid for the developing world.

Unfortunately for Guterres and all those counting on the much-needed food, his months of diplomatic work – including visits to Moscow and Kyiv to seal the deal – have finally brought to light the limits of trust in the Russia.

There is no explicit ceasefire in the agreement, but Russia’s obligations were clearly spelled out: “The Russian Federation is committed to facilitating the unimpeded export of food, sunflower oil and fertilizer,” a statement from Guterres’ office said.

Less than 24 hours after it was signed, the post-agreement calm in Odessa – the main port named in the deal – was shattered when two sea-launched Russian Kalibr cruise missiles slammed into the port.

Windows were blown out in buildings nearly a mile away. Firefighters rushed to the port to douse the flames on several burning boats. According to the authorities, a port employee was injured.

The damage could have been much worse; two more of the $6 million precision missiles had been shot down by Ukrainian air defense. Odessa sunbathers, who last year jostled for spots on the sand with Russian holidaymakers, cheered as the interception exploded overhead.

Russia’s apparent coda to the grain deal it signed has been deplored by Ukraine and its allies – and widely seen as proof of its duplicity.

Speaking to CNN hours after the attack, Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko said Russia was “showing that it wants to continue to threaten global food security”.

“The attack casts serious doubt on the credibility of Russia’s commitment,” said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, adding that it “undermines the work of the UN, Turkey and the ‘Ukraine to get essential foodstuffs to world markets’.

“He doesn’t show a word [Russian President Vladimir Putin] said can be trusted,” said Liz Truss, UK Foreign Secretary – and potential next Prime Minister.

Port of Odessa: Russia shows its true colors by attacking after grain export deal with Ukraine

Remarkably, Russia’s initial response to reports of the attack was denial.

According to Turkey – a co-signer of the agreement and an arbiter overseeing its safe and fair implementation – the Kremlin told Ankara “unequivocally” that it had “nothing to do with this attack”.

Yet just 12 hours later, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reversed the original lie. She said they were Russian strikes after all and claimed the attack had destroyed Ukrainian “military infrastructure” in the port.

Ukraine said the strikes hit a pumping station in the port of Odessa.

Such obfuscation is commonplace fare for Russian officials — and that’s the point here. The grain deal did not change Moscow’s calculation to fight the war, despite all of Guterres’ hard work and diplomatic uprising.

And the damage done here not only reminds the world of Moscow’s ambiguous relationship with the truth – Russia has also burned the good faith of its broker in the deal, Turkey.

Under the terms of the agreement, Turkey is setting up a Joint Command Center (JCC) with UN assistance to monitor compliance. But Russia has already torpedoed all confidence, in line with its cynical approach to the whole war against Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of one of the world’s breadbaskets caused global food insecurity, but Moscow won concessions through the deal to allow Ukrainian grain to flow. This is generally called extortion.

To get Russia to release the grain by ending blockades on Ukrainian ports, Guterres had to strike a side deal with Russia, effectively easing some sanctions on food and fertilizer. The UN officials explained that the diplomacy was “based on the principle that the measures imposed on the Russian Federation do not apply to these products”.

Port of Odessa: Russia shows its true colors by attacking after grain export deal with Ukraine

Canceling these sanctions will bring money into Moscow’s coffers – perhaps the lasting result of Guterres’ deal: Putin will make limited compromises for money.

But in doing so, Putin may have revealed, like Tolkien’s Smaug, a potentially deadly vulnerability in his defenses. The mythical dragon’s weakness was a missing scale, and Putin’s appears to be the economic bite of international sanctions. Whatever his other reasons for agreeing to the deal, the need to pay for the war probably weighs the heaviest.

Speaking in Istanbul after Saturday’s missile attack, Ukraine’s Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yurii Vaskov said technical meetings to implement the deal were underway.

“Ukraine is determined to start grain export as soon as possible,” he said.

“Attacking Russia is also on the agenda,” Vaskov added.

Guterres was right to hope; the future effectiveness of the UN Security Council rests on its ability to prevent Russia from escalating the war of its choice. But if he had apprehensions at the signing table on Friday, nothing he’s seen so far will allay his fears. No less than Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday embellished the deal, saying Russian ships would help escort the cargo ships. A statement, like the missile strike, deliberately aimed at goading Ukraine.


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