Russia pulls out of grain safe-transit deal after alleged Crimea drone attack

The Russian fleet stationed in the port was also attacked by a drone in July. PHOTO: AFP

KYIV - Russia will halt its participation in the safe-transit deal for Ukrainian grain exports from three Black Sea ports, Interfax reported on Saturday, citing a Ministry of Defence statement slamming a “terrorist attack” on the Russian fleet in Crimea overnight.

Russia’s defence ministry said a navy minesweeper suffered minor damage from a “massive” drone strike on its Black Sea fleet in Crimea, and accused the United Kingdom of helping with the attack, without offering evidence. The UK denied any involvement. 

The drone attack on Sevastopol port in the Moscow-annexed Crimea was the “most massive” on the peninsula since the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine in February, a Moscow-backed official said.

“Today at night (Friday), the most massive attack by UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and remote-controlled surface vehicles in the waters of the Sevastopol bay was undertaken” since Moscow launched its offensive into Ukraine eight months ago, Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razgozhayev told Russian state media, of the port.

But the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff accused Russia of “blackmail” and “invented terror attacks” on its own facilities on Saturday, following the explosions in Crimea.

“The primitiveness of Russian blackmail (can be seen) in everything. Nuclear blackmail, energy, food,” Ukraine’s top presidential staffer Andriy Yermak wrote on the Telegram app.

His comments were an apparent response to Russian accusations that Ukraine was behind the blasts, as a result of which Moscow said it was suspending its participation in the United Nations-backed Black Sea grain corridor.

Russia’s defence ministry said its ships targeted were involved in ensuring security for the grain corridor allowing safe transit of agricultural goods from Ukrainian ports.

It accused “British specialists” of helping Ukraine’s military carry out the attack, without offering evidence. Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

Meanwhile, Russia said on Friday it had finished calling up reservists to fight in Ukraine, having drafted hundreds of thousands in a month and already sending more than a quarter of them to the battlefield after a divisive mobilisation campaign that was its first since World War II.

“The task set by you of (mobilising) 300,000 people has been completed. No further measures are planned,” Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin at a televised meeting in the Kremlin. He said 82,000 had already been sent to the combat zone and the rest were training.

Separately, in an interview published on Saturday, European Union Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said Russian assets worth around €17 billion (S$24 billion) have been frozen since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

The figure has risen from the roughly €13.8 billion “from oligarchs and other entities” that Mr Reynders in July announced the EU had frozen, mainly in five countries. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.