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Ukraine plans first grain exports “this week”

#Ukraine #plans #grain #exports #week

Ukraine said Monday it expects to export its first shipments of grain under a United Nations-backed deal to lift Russia’s blockade “this week,” days after rocket attacks by the Kremlin called the deal into question.

Kyiv and Moscow on Friday agreed on a landmark plan to release millions of tons of grain caught in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, a move hailed as a key step in averting a global food crisis.

Less than 24 hours later, Moscow attacked the port of Odessa – one of three exit nodes specified in the deal – sparking anger in Kyiv and fueling fears that the Kremlin would not go through with the deal.

Despite the weekend’s attack, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov told journalists on Monday that Kyiv is still working on resuming exports and expects the deal “to come into effect in the coming days”.

“We are preparing for everything to start this week,” said Kubrakov, who led Ukraine’s delegation to last week’s grain talks in Istanbul.

Ukrainian officials said the port of Chornomorsk in south-west Ukraine would be the first to open, insisting on the importance of security after the strike in nearby Odessa.

“Our position is very simple. We signed an agreement with the UN and Turkey. If the sides guarantee security, the deal will work. If they don’t, it won’t work,” Kubrakov said.

Demining will take place “exclusively” in the shipping lanes necessary for grain exports, while Ukrainian ships will accompany the departing convoys carrying not only grain but also fertilizers.

Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of agricultural products, but the invasion of Moscow seriously disrupted Ukraine’s wheat exports as fighting damaged crops and blocked and mined ports.

Russia’s naval blockade helped push up world prices and sparked fears of famine, with up to 25 million tons of wheat and other grains stranded in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has estimated the value of stocks of grain to be exported under the deal at around $10 billion.

– The changing narrative of the Kremlin –

The Kremlin insisted on Monday that its strikes in Odessa should “not interfere” with Turkey’s brokered push to send the grain to world markets.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s cruise missiles hit “exclusively” military infrastructure and were “not linked to the grain export agreement.”

Turkey, which helped broker the deal, said after the attack it had received assurances from Moscow that Russian forces were not responsible.

Moscow then admitted to carrying out the attacks but claimed to have targeted a Ukrainian military ship and weapons supplied by Washington.

Russia has tried to blame the food crisis on Western sanctions, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Africa in a trip aimed at strengthening Moscow’s ties amid growing isolation.

Lavrov, who is visiting Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo-Brazzaville, told his Egyptian counterpart on his first stop that Russia would fill the grain orders.

Ukraine’s presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak has slammed the visit as a cynical ploy by Moscow after fueling the food crisis.

“Lavrov’s journey to Africa is the quintessence of Russian sadism. They arranged artificial starvation and then came to cheer people up,” he said on Twitter, assuring that Ukrainian grain will meet its goals.

– Fresh weapons from Germany –

The deal for grain exports has brought little reprieve on the battlefield where Russian forces have been conducting bombings in numerous regions.

Ukraine’s presidency said Monday that a Russian attack trapped seven people under the rubble of a collapsed cultural center in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Three were pulled out alive and the rescue operation continued.

It said shelling continued across the frontline and at least one person was killed in the town of Soledar as Russia tried to resume its sluggish advance into the devastated Donbass region.

In the south — where Kyiv has announced a major counter-offensive to retake the strategic Kherson region — authorities said Ukrainian forces halted a Russian advance in several villages as fighting raged elsewhere.

A local official said on Sunday that a Ukrainian operation to retake the region that Russia captured at the start of the invasion would be completed by September.

Ukraine’s attempt to oust Kremlin forces has been aided by longer-range Western weapons, which have allowed Kyiv to aim Russian supply lines deeper into occupied areas.

Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine has received the first of what is expected to be 15 Gepard anti-aircraft systems and tens of thousands of shells from Germany in the latest foreign weapons.

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