The Russian Foreign Ministry said separately that because of the attack, it “will no longer guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative and will suspend its operation from today for an indefinite period.”
Britain responded to the accusation of drone attacks by saying that Russia was making “false claims of an epic scale.” Ukraine did not officially claim responsibility for the attacks.
A video that emerged on Ukrainian Telegram channels on Saturday showed a naval drone targeting what appeared to be the Russian Admiral Makarov frigate. The Makarov had reportedly replaced the Russian navy’s main Black Sea fleet, Moskva, which sank in April after Ukrainian forces hit it with Neptune anti-ship missiles. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the authenticity of this video.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the drone attacks were largely repelled, with only one sweeper sustaining minor damage.
Moscow and Kyiv signed the grain deal in July, opening Ukrainian Black Sea ports for exports, which were suspended after Russia invaded the country on February 24.
Turkey played a key role in brokering the agreement, as it has close ties to Russia and Ukraine and has tried to raise its diplomatic profile to mediate the talks between warring sides.
As part of the agreement, Ukrainian pilots guided ships through the port, which Ukraine mined earlier in the war to prevent Russia from seizing key ports such as Odessa. The United States and Ukraine also accused the Russian navy of laying mines near the Ukrainian coast.
The ships were then given safe passage by the Russian military to sail to Turkey, which organized teams with experts from all involved parties to inspect the ships before they set off for their destinations. Ships bound for Ukraine were also inspected for weapons, a condition imposed by Moscow to ensure that the grain corridor is not used to supply Western weapons to Ukraine.
More than 8 million tonnes of grain were exported from Ukraine as part of the deal which saw global food prices fall, according to the United Nations.
“It is essential that all parties refrain from any action that would jeopardize the Black Sea Grain Initiative which is a critical humanitarian effort that is clearly having a positive impact on access to food for millions of people around the world,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, said in a statement.
Negotiations over extending the deal were strained even before the ships struck, as Moscow had indicated it could withdraw from the deal after repeated complaints about its implementation.
In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of limiting the deal, saying the goods were going to the European Union rather than to poor countries experiencing dire food shortages.
Erdogan echoed Putin’s complaints, adding that he also wanted to see Russian grain exported.
“The fact that grain shipments go to the countries that implement these sanctions [against Moscow] disturbs Mr Putin. We also want grain shipments to start from Russia,” Erdogan said at a news conference. “Unfortunately the grain that comes as part of this grain deal goes to rich countries, not to poor countries.”
After the explosion on the strategic bridge connecting Crimea to mainland Russia in early October, Putin speculated that the grain corridor could have been used by Ukrainian special services to attack the highly symbolic gateway. If it was proven, he suggested, it would jeopardize the agreement.
Putin blames Kyiv for attack on strategic Crimean bridge
Later in October, Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said that Russian-flagged ships were not being accepted in European ports because of sanctions and lamented difficulties in obtaining insurance and financing for grain shipments and Russian fertilizer.
Ukraine, in turn, accused Moscow of not fully implementing the agreement. In one of his nightly addresses last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia was “deliberately delaying the passage of ships,” creating an artificial backlog of more than 150 ships.
Zelensky said that the situation with Ukrainian food exports is becoming “more and more tense” and that Moscow is “doing everything to slow down” the process.
“I believe that with these actions, Russia is deliberately encouraging the food crisis so that it becomes as acute as it was in the first half of this year,” Zelensky said.
Last week, Ukraine also accused Russia of blocking the full implementation of the deal, saying that Ukrainian ports have been working at 25-30 percent of their capacity recently.
“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 about Russia’s plans to destroy the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” Kuleba wrote. He also called on the world community to “demand that Russia stop its hunger games and recommit to its obligations.”
The head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, said Moscow was engaging in “blackmail” using food products, energy, and nuclear materials, which he described as “primitive.”
David Stern contributed to this report.