Explosions thundered over Odessa, Ukraine, as Russia targeted it with missiles and drones before dawn on Tuesday, a day after an apparent Ukrainian strike damaged a major Russian bridge and the Kremlin ended a deal for safe passage of grain ships on the Black Sea.

Moscow suggested that the unusual bombardment aimed at Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, was in response to the attack on the strategic Kerch Strait, which connects Russia to the Russian-occupied Crimea Peninsula. Kiev claimed it was related to the grain deal, which the Kremlin denied.

But even so, Russia has issued an ominous warning about any attempts to ship Ukrainian food, which is vital to global supplies, from Ukrainian ports now that Russia is no longer agreeing to release them from a naval blockade it imposed after invading Ukraine 17 months ago. .

“We are talking about a zone that is very close to the area of ​​armed hostilities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told reporters. “Certain risks appear there without adequate security guarantees. Therefore, if something is formalized without the participation of Russia, these risks must be considered.”

The bridge that was struck is both a vital road and rail link for Russian troops fighting in southern Ukraine and a pet project of President Vladimir V. Putin, who directed its construction after ordering the illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014 and pledged on Monday. revenge

The attack was carried out by two Ukrainian naval drones, Russian officials said, but while Ukrainian officials rejoiced at the news, they stopped short of claiming responsibility. Ukraine has made no secret of its efforts to build a massive fleet of surface and underwater unmanned vessels, and Vasyl Maliuk, the head of Ukraine’s Security Service, has said the bridge is a legitimate target.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based organization, said the attack, while less damaging than a truck bombing of the same bridge in October, “would likely have lasting consequences on Russian logistics in southern Ukraine.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense, in statement in Telegramsaid on Tuesday that in Odesa and nearby areas it carried out a “massive retaliatory strike with precision sea-based weapons, against facilities where terrorist acts against Russian forces were prepared using unmanned boats”, a shipyard where the drones were made and others. purposes, including fuel storage facilities.

As usual, the two sides gave drastically different accounts of the results. The Ukrainian military said it shot down all six cruise missiles fired at Odessa by Russian ships, as well as 21 drones launched from Crimea, although the air detonations and missile debris caused some damage to port infrastructure and homes.

The Russian military said: “All targets planned for the strike were hit. Fires and detonation at the destroyed facilities were recorded.”

Although Russia has proven it can strike in any corner of Ukraine, major attacks targeting a city as far from the front lines as Odesa, on the southwestern edge of Ukraine’s coast, have been rare. The Ukrainian military said Russia launched drones at other cities as well, including the port of Mykolaiv, and that a total of 31 out of 36 were captured.

Russia, in turn, claimed to have shot down a barrage of Ukrainian drones targeting Crimea.

Ukrainian officials said the strikes on Odessa were intended to send a message that Moscow would use food and hunger as weapons to hold the world ransom. “The world must realize that Russia’s goal is to starve and kill people,” said Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office.

Russia and Ukraine are major food exporters, but in the first months after the full-scale invasion began last year, the blockade of Ukrainian ports and Western sanctions against Russia combined to sharply lower global grain and cooking oil supplies — driving up prices and creating a crisis. in parts of Africa. The lack of exports also stifled a large part of the Ukrainian economy.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered last summer by the United Nations and Turkey, allowed shipments from Ukraine to resume, subject to Russian inspection. It also contained steps to enable Russian food and fertilizer exports, but Moscow has repeatedly said those provisions were inadequate or not being honored, and has threatened to withdraw. On Monday, it finally did so.

The United Nations says the deal has enabled nearly 33 million tons of food to leave Ukraine by ship in less than a year.

Grain prices haven’t changed much this week, and economists say Russia’s exit from the deal won’t have the dire effects seen last year, in part because other parts of the world have had robust harvests and in part because Ukraine has boosted exports by the truckload. , train and river barge.

In an overnight speech, Mr Zelensky said he had sent letters to the UN secretary-general and the president of Turkey, proposing that Ukraine continue to send exports that he called “necessary for everyone in the world”. That would risk a military conflict at sea with Russia.

“The only thing that is needed now is its careful implementation and decisive pressure from the world on the terrorist state,” Mr. Zelensky added, referring to Russia.

Mr. Peskov, warning against such a step, accused the government in Kyiv of using the zone covered by the agreement “for military purposes”, without elaborating.

At a meeting in India of finance ministers of the Group of 20 nations, several of them condemned the termination of the grain agreement by Russia, Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s finance minister, said at a press conference on Tuesday. The group also did not agree on their usual joint statement because they could not agree on how to characterize the war in Ukraine. Russia and China belong to the group that includes the world’s largest economies.

“We still don’t have a common language on the Russia-Ukraine war,” Ms. Sitharaman said. “It must be left to the leaders during the summit in September to take a call on that.”

The attack on the bridge illustrated the particular risk posed by drones – they can be difficult to detect, carry enough fuel to travel far and do damage far beyond the cost of making them. For Ukraine, whose navy is vastly outnumbered by Russia’s, the appeal is readily apparent.

Unmanned vehicles can be used “against the warships, the cargo ships, the logistics ships of your adversary, and the completely lopsided costs are what’s driving this approach,” said Sam Bendett, an expert on drones and Russia’s military at CNA , research. institute in Virginia.

He said the ships were likely guided by satellite, traveled slowly enough to minimize their wake and foil radar detection, and could carry hundreds of pounds of explosives.

Russia said in October that Ukraine attacked its naval base in Crimea with naval and aerial drones, although it was unclear how much damage they did. On Sunday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had foiled another such attack in Sevastopol, which involved two naval drones and aerial drones. There was no independent verification of the claim.

Marc Santora reported from Odessa, Ukraine; Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; and Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London. Victoria Kim contributed reporting from Seoul, and Alan Rappeport from Gandhinagar, India.

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