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Ukraine ships grain despite Russia suspending partnership in U.N. deal

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Twelve cargo ships loaded with food left Ukraine for Turkey's Bosphorus Strait for inspection on Monday. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov/Twitter
Twelve cargo ships loaded with food left Ukraine for Turkey's Bosphorus Strait for inspection on Monday. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov/Twitter

Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Ukraine has continued to ship grain from its ports despite Russia suspending its partnership in a U.N.-brokered deal that has made it possible for millions of tons of foodstuff to depart the besieged European nation for the wider world amid the war.

Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine's minister of Infrastructure, said 12 cargo ships loaded with food left the country for Turkey's Bosphorus Strait for inspection on Monday.

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Among the vessels was Ikaria Angel, loaded with 40,00 tons of grain for Ethiopia.

"The [R]ussian delegation has been informed," he tweeted.

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It is unclear exactly how Russia will react to the ships' departure as Moscow on Saturday suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative on accusations that Ukrainian forces used the humanitarian corridor to attack Russian ships in Sevastopol, a port city in Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed from Kyiv in 2014.

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The Black Sea Initiative was agreed to in late July by Russia and Ukraine and was brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, to allow for commercial food exports to leave the three key Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzny.

The landmark deal was made amid rising fears of starvation in food-insecure nations and increasing prices of goods on shelves in wealthier countries as Russia's war in Ukraine halted the export of foodstuffs from the European nation, which, with Russia, is considered the breadbasket of the world as its accounts for about 30% of worldwide wheat and barely export.

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When the deal was signed, officials complained that food in Ukrainian ports was just sitting there while countries were calling for shipments.

Officials say that including the 2 million tons that departed Tuesday, some 9.5 million tons have left Ukraine under the deal.

However, Russia's suspension of its partnership has caused concern over the future of the initiative that has seen prices fall and countries in need receive food, with the United States, Europe and the United Nations calling on Moscow to resume full participation.

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The dozen ships departed Ukraine on Monday as the U.N. Security Council held a meeting called by Russia to discuss its claims that at 4 a.m. Saturday, Ukrainian armed forces used the cloak of night to attack the Russian Black Sea Fleet's ships in Sevastopol.

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Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations, accused Ukraine during the meeting of using the cover of the humanitarian corridor created by the Black Sea Initiative to target its vessels with nine unmanned aerial vehicles and seven autonomous undersea drones, all of which he said were destroyed.

He said the attack involved Canada-manufactured devices and was conducted under British guidance. The attack, he said, violated the pacts of July 22 that created the Black Sea Initiative and "basically 'shuts the door' on the humanitarian dimension of the agreements."

"Due to these acts by Kyiv, the Russian side cannot guarantee safety of civilian vessels taking part in the grain initiative," he warned. "We do not know what other terrorist attacks Kyiv is plotting with the help of its Western sponsors. That is why we had to suspend the implementation of the grain initiative."

The Institute for the Study of War supported Russia's claims that Ukrainian forces "likely" attacked a Grigorovich-class frigate of the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol with unmanned surface vehicles. It was unable to verify if any vessels sustained damage.

Martin Griffiths, the under secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has called on Russia to return to participation in the initiative, asking it to bring its claims to the Joint Coordination Center, which was created to discuss disputes in the deal.

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During his speech to the Security Council, Griffiths argued that the attack did not violate the agreement, as the humanitarian corridor only exists when cargo ships are using it.

The deal states that no military ships are to be within 10 nautical miles of cargo vessels transporting foodstuffs from Ukraine and that none were in the corridor at the time of the attack.

"The corridor itself is just lines on a chart," he said. "The corridor has no special status. It provides neither cover or protection for offensive or defensive military action. It's not a shield. It's not a hideout. It's not a no-go zone. These things come into play when a ship passes through those lines on the sea."

Jeffrey DeLaurentis, deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, derided Russia before the council over "once again demonstrating its willingness to weaponize food."

"Its actions directly impact low- and middle-income countries by raising global food prices and exacerbating already dire humanitarian crises and global food security," he said.

DeLaurentis described the landmark deal as having shown the value of diplomacy and the commitment to address a problem with global implications amid a dark time.

"Any action by Russia to disrupt these critical food exports is essentially a statement that people and families around the world should pay more for food or go hungry and face higher rates of malnutrition and death," he said.

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Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine's permanent representative to the United Nations, said before the council that they were "outraged but not surprised" by Russia's suspension of its partnership as "Russias has never given up aggravating the food crisis as a tool to pressure and blackmail the world.

"Crocodile tears or [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's representative do not cover up the cynicism of his masters and their total disregard toward the critical nutrition needs of millions of people in the different parts of the world," he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday said he spoke with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to confirm his country's commitment to the grain deal.

"We're ready to remain a guarantor of [world] food safety," he tweeted.

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