Russia pounds Ukraine’s grain, UN warns of hunger from price rises

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A view shows a grain warehouse destroyed by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, at a compound of an agricultural company in Odesa region, Ukraine July 21, 2023. Press Service of the the Operational Command South of the Ukrainian Armed Forces/Handout via REUTERS

Russia pounded Ukrainian food export facilities for a fourth day in a row on Friday and practised seizing ships in the Black Sea in an escalation of what Western leaders say is an attempt to wriggle out of sanctions by threatening a global food crisis.

The attacks on Ukraine’s grain, a major part of the global food chain, followed a vow by Kyiv to defy Russia’s naval blockade on its export ports after Moscow’s withdrawal this week from a UN-brokered safe sea corridor agreement.

The UN warned that millions of people in poor countries around the world were at greater risk of hunger and starvation from the knock-on effect for food prices.

“Some will go hungry, some will starve, many may die as a result of these decisions,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council.

In Ukraine, local governor Oleh Kiper said the grain terminals of an agricultural enterprise in Odesa region were hit by air, with 100 tons of peas and 20 tons of barley destroyed.

Photographs released by the emergencies ministry showed a fire burning among crumpled metal buildings that appeared to be storehouses. Two people were injured, Kiper said, while officials reported seven dead in Russian air strikes elsewhere in Ukraine.

Moscow has described the attacks as revenge for a Ukrainian strike on a Russian-built bridge to Crimea – the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014. It accuses Ukraine of using the sea corridor to launch “terrorist attacks.”

Russia said its Black Sea fleet had practised firing rockets at “floating targets” and it would deem all ships heading for Ukrainian waters to be potentially carrying arms. Kyiv responded with a similar warning about ships headed to Russia.

The attacks on grain export infrastructure and anxiety over shipping drove prices of benchmark Chicago wheat futures towards their biggest weekly gain since the February 2022 invasion.

The UN says the deal had helped the poorest by lowering food prices more than 23% globally since March last year.

Russia says not enough Ukrainian grain had reached poor countries and that it is now negotiating directly with those most in need. It says it will not re-enter the deal without better terms for its own food and fertiliser sales.

Western leaders accuse Moscow of seeking to loosen sanctions imposed over its invasion of Ukraine, which already exempt exports of Russian food. Russian grain has moved freely through the Black Sea to market throughout the conflict.

WAGNER NEAR POLAND BORDER

A Polish broadcaster reported on Friday that a military reconnaissance drone of unspecified origin had crashed near a base in southwestern Poland this week.

NATO military alliance member Poland has been reinforcing its border with Belarus, where Russia’s Wagner mercenary force has taken up residency after a failed mutiny last month.

Belarus has said Wagner fighters are training its troops near the Polish border. Residents in Poland close to the frontier report having heard shooting and helicopters.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said it was Poland that had territorial ambitions in the region, telling Russia’s Security Council that Moscow would react to any aggression against Belarus “with all the means at our disposal.”

Investigators in Russia detained prominent nationalist Igor Girkin, a former commander of Russia’s proxy forces in Ukraine, who had publicly accused Putin and army chiefs of not prosecuting the war in Ukraine harshly or effectively enough.

“This is a direct outcome of Prigozhin’s mutiny: the army’s command now wields greater political leverage to quash its opponents in the public sphere,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the R.Politik analysis firm.

Inside Ukraine, four people were killed in 80 Russian attacks on settlements in the southern Zaporizhzhia region over the past 24 hours, regional governor Yuriy Malashko said.

A married couple in their 50s were killed in Russian shelling of the city of Kostiantynivka in the eastern region of Donetsk, the general prosecutor’s office said.

And in the northern region of Chernihiv, a woman’s body was pulled from rubble after a missile strike, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address, noted that Odesa port, its grain facilities and its surrounding region, had once again been a target of Russian attacks with more than 20 people injured this week alone.

“If someone in Russia hopes that they can somehow turn the Black Sea into an area of arbitrary action and terrorism, this will not work for them,” he said.

“We know how to defend ourselves and we see around the world a readiness to work together further and more actively in order to guarantee calm for our region.”

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine last year and claims to have annexed nearly a fifth of its territory. Moscow says it is responding to threats posed by its neighbour, while Kyiv and the West call it an unprovoked war of conquest.

SOURCE: REUTERS

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