Ukraine war: Two cargo ships leave ports despite Moscow's grain exports deal pullout

Two cargo ships loaded with grain left Ukrainian ports on Monday and took the humanitarian maritime corridor to Turkey, despite Russia's pullout, according to the Marine Traffic website.

A total of twelve cargo ships are due to leave the Black Sea ports controlled by Ukraine on Monday, and four others are heading for them.

One of those, under a Turkish flag, has already set sail, said the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), which oversees the agreement on Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea.

The transport of Ukrainian grain was blocked in the Black Sea on Sunday after Russia suspended the export agreement vital for global food supplies, a decision blasted by Kyiv, Washington and the EU.

Earlier, the United Nations, Turkey and Ukraine were said to have decided to continue implementing the grain deal after movement was halted on Sunday, with a transit plan in place for 16 ships on Monday now active.

Ukraine's government said that 218 ships involved in grain exports had been blocked — 22 loaded and stuck at ports, 95 loaded and departed from ports, and 101 awaiting inspections.

One of the ships, with 40,000 tonnes of grain bound for Ethiopia under the United Nations aid programme, could not leave port on Sunday due to Russia's "blockage", Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Twitter, adding that exports were now "impossible".

NATO has joined an international chorus calling on Russia to reverse its decision.

Russia said on Sunday that it will have "contacts" with Turkey and the UN "soon" on the grain deal, the state news agency TASS reported, quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko.

But, it added, this would only happen once all circumstances surrounding "Ukraine's attack" on its Black Sea fleet had been clarified and a UN Security Council meeting held.

Kyiv has denounced Moscow's linking the grain deal suspension to the alleged attack in Crimea as a "false pretext", calling for pressure to be brought to bear to ensure that Russia "recommits to its obligations".

The UN-brokered deal, which allowed Ukraine to export agricultural produce, has seen more than nine million tonnes of grain exported during the war and has brought down soaring global food prices.

International outcry at Russian move

Russia's abrupt move on Saturday to halt the UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal has caused an international outcry and dealt a blow to attempts to ease the world's food crisis.

"President Putin must stop weaponising food and end his illegal war on Ukraine," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said. "We call on Russia to reconsider its decision and renew the deal urgently, enabling food to reach those who need it most."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply concerned" by Russia's decision and delayed a foreign visit to try to revive the agreement.

The European Union called on Russia to reverse its decision to pull out of the deal, accusing Moscow of putting at risk supply routes to ease address the global food crisis caused by its war in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden said the move was "purely outrageous" and would increase starvation.

"This is a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa, for Asia," Ukraine's President Zelenskyy said in a video address, calling for a strong response from the UN and for Russia to be kicked out of the G20.

On Sunday Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba took to Twitter to accuse Russia of pre-planning its move and creating a "false pretext of explosions 200 kilometers away from the grain corridor".

"Russia's decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea deal puts at risk the main export route of much needed grain and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.

"Any act by Russia to disrupt these critical grain exports is essentially a statement that people and families around the world should pay more for food or go hungry," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) overseeing the agreement said earlier that no cargo movements had been approved for Sunday. Nine cargo ships were able to use the Black Sea corridor on Saturday and "more than ten others" were ready to do the same in both directions, it said.

Row over alleged drone attack on Russian ships

Russia's defence ministry said Ukraine attacked the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula with 16 drones early on Saturday. Ukraine has denied the attack, saying that the Russians mishandled their own weapons.

Moscow pointed the finger at British navy "specialists" it accused of helping to coordinate the "terrorist" attack and also alleged British navy personnel had blown up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month.

Its claim, unaccompanied by any evidence, prompted London to respond that it was false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.

On Sunday, France's foreign ministry said Russian accusations that Britain participated in attacks were groundless, concocted as part of Moscow's strategy to detract attention from its war of aggression against Ukraine.

The Russian declaration came one day after Guterres urged Russia and Ukraine to renew the grain export deal, which was scheduled to expire on 19 November.

Ahead of the expiry, Russia had repeatedly complained of problems, while Kyiv said Moscow had blocked almost 200 ships from picking up grain cargoes.

The grain deal — brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July — enabled Ukraine to export grain and to ease Russian agricultural and fertiliser exports.

According to TASS, Russia's agriculture minister has said Moscow is ready, with Turkey's assistance, to supply up to half a million tonnes of grain to poor countries in the next four months.