Ukraine News: West Condemns Russia’s Strike on Odesa Port

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Russia’s strikes on the Black Sea port of Odesa on Saturday, just hours after the grain deal it signed with Ukraine, are the clearest illustration of how complex and fragile the agreement between the two warring parties is.

Here’s what to know about the agreement and whether the Russian attacks on Odesa will affect it.

How is the operation supposed to work?

Ukrainian captains will steer vessels packed with grain out of the ports of Odesa, Yuzhne and Chornomorsk. A joint command center with officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations will be set up in Istanbul to monitor the flotillas’ movements.

The ships will head into Turkish waters to be inspected by officials, then deliver their cargo around the world, returning for another inspection before heading back to Ukraine. A key Russian demand was that the returning ships not carry weapons to Ukraine.

The parties agreed that the vessels and port facilities used for their operations would be safeguarded from hostilities.

Note: The arrow highlights the general direction of travel; it does not represent an

exact route. Source: European and other government officials

Note: The arrow highlights the general direction of travel; it does not represent an

exact route. Source: European and other government officials

What are the risks?

No broad cease-fire was negotiated, so the ships will be traveling through a war zone. Attacks near the ships or at the ports they use — such as those carried out by Russia on Saturday — have the potential to unravel the agreement.

Another risk would be a breach of trust or a disagreement between inspectors and joint-command officials.

The role of the United Nations and Turkey is to mediate such disagreements on the spot, and to monitor and enforce the agreement. On Saturday, the United Nations condemned the strikes on Odesa, saying in a statement that full implementation of the grain deal was “imperative.”

Will the missile strikes on Odesa scupper the deal?

Ukraine’s agriculture minister, Mykola Solskyi, said the strikes would affect Ukraine’s efforts to export grain, noting in a telephone interview that “if you attack a port, you attack everything.”

Yet although some of the infrastructure destroyed was “important for processing all imports,” Ukraine will proceed as if the grain deal is still going into effect, Mr. Solskyi said.

Did the strikes violate the agreement?

We don’t know yet. It was unclear what the strikes were targeting and whether any grain infrastructure was hit.

Describing the attack as “cynical,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Saturday said, “It was also a blow to the political positions of Russia itself.”

But Russia did not promise to avoid attacking parts of the Ukrainian ports that are not directly used for grain exports, according to a senior U.N. official. If there were military targets nearby, Russia may have been trying to exploit a loophole.

Still, even if the strikes did not violate the letter of the agreement, it seems clear that they went against the spirit of it.

“All parties made clear commitments on the global stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets,” the United Nations said in a statement on Saturday.

Credit…Leszek Szymanski/EPA, via Shutterstock

What’s in the deal for Russia?

Russia is itself a major exporter of grains and fertilizer, and the agreement should make it easier to sell those goods on the world market.

The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that its stocks cannot be exported because of sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. The measures do not in fact target those goods, but private shipping companies, insurers, banks and other businesses have been reluctant to help Russia export grains and fertilizers, fearing that they might run afoul of sanctions or that doing business with Russia might harm their reputations.

Why is Ukrainian grain stuck inside the country?

After Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it deployed warships along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. Ukraine mined those waters to deter a Russian naval attack. That meant that the ports used to export Ukrainian grain were blocked for commercial shipping.

Russia also pilfered grain stocks, mined grain fields so that they couldn’t be harvested and destroyed grain storage facilities.


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