Explosions have been reported near the Ukrainian port of Izmail on the Danube River as the Russian and Turkish leaders prepare for talks on Ukraine’s grain exports.
Russia launched an air attack on one of Ukraine’s largest grain export ports, hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan were scheduled to hold talks.
On Monday, the Ukrainian Air Force urged residents of Port Izmail, one of Ukraine’s main grain export ports on the Danube River in the Odessa region, to seek shelter.
Some Ukrainian media reported hearing explosions in the area.
The attack came as Putin and Erdogan were due to meet in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks on a Ukraine grain export deal that has helped ease food crises in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The agreement — brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July 2022 — allowed some 33 million metric tons (36 million tons) of grain and other commodities to leave three Ukrainian ports despite the Russian invasion.
But Moscow withdrew from the agreement about six weeks ago, as it complained that its exports of foodstuffs and fertilizers were facing obstacles, and that not enough Ukrainian grain had reached countries in need.
Since then, it has launched repeated attacks on the ports of the Danube, which has emerged as Ukraine’s main grain export route.
Monday’s attack – the scale of which was not immediately known – followed Russian attacks on Sunday on the other major port of Reni on the Danube, in which port infrastructure was damaged and at least two people were wounded.
A senior Erdogan aide told Turkish news channel Haber on Sunday that the meeting between the Russian and Turkish leaders “will play the most important role” in reviving the grain corridor.
“current situation [of the grain deal] They will be discussed at the summit on Monday. “We are cautious, but we hope to achieve success because this situation affects the entire world,” said Elif Cagatay Kilic, Erdogan’s senior adviser on foreign and security policy.
Erdogan — who maintained close ties with Putin during the 18-month war, including refusing to join Western sanctions against Russia — has repeatedly vowed to revive the Black Sea agreement.
The Turkish president had previously expressed sympathy for Putin’s position, saying in July that the Russian leader had “certain expectations from Western countries” on the grain deal, and that it was “important for these countries to take action in this regard.”
Russia has said that if demands to improve its grain and fertilizer exports are met, it will consider reviving the Black Sea Agreement. While Russian exports of food and fertilizer are not subject to Western sanctions, Moscow has said that shipments have been hampered by restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance.
One of Russia’s main demands is to reconnect the Agricultural Bank of Russia to the international payment system SWIFT. The European Union cut it off in June 2022.
The United Nations has also intensified its efforts to revive the agreement.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that he had sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov containing “concrete proposals” aimed at bringing Moscow’s exports to global markets.
But Russian officials said they were not satisfied with the letter.
A Russian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency that “there is no revelation” in Guterres’ letter to Lavrov, and that it is just “a summing up of previous UN ideas, which did not work.”
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