Russia targets Ukraine Black Sea port, a day after halting grain deal

Six missiles and 25 drones were shot down by air defenses in the Odesa region and other areas, though debris and shock waves damaged some facilities.
Posted at 8:35 AM, Jul 18, 2023

Ukrainian forces shot down scores of exploding drones and six cruise missiles during a pre-dawn Russian attack on the port of Odesa on Tuesday, authorities in Kyiv said, a day after Moscow broke off a deal that had allowed Ukraine to ship vital grain supplies from the Black Sea city during the war.

The Russians first sought to wear down Ukraine's air defenses with the drones and then targeted Odesa with six Kalibr cruise missiles, the Ukrainian military's Southern Command said.

All six missiles and 25 drones were shot down by air defenses in the Odesa region and other areas in the south, though their debris and shock waves damaged some port facilities and a few residential buildings, injuring an elderly man at his home, officials said.

Russia said the grain decision was not connected to a strike Monday on a key bridge between Moscow-annexed Crimea and Russia that the Kremlin blamed on Kyiv's forces using sea drones. Ukrainian officials stopped short of directly taking responsibility, as they have done in similar past strikes, but Ukraine's top security agency appeared tacitly to admit to a role in the strike.

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Russia described Tuesday's strikes along the Black Sea coast as "retribution" for that attack.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it used sea-launched precision weapons on Ukrainian military facilities near Odesa and Mykolaiv, a coastal city about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the northeast.

The Russian military destroyed facilities involved in preparing "terror attacks" against Russia that use sea drones, including a facility at a shipyard near Odesa that was producing them, the ministry said, while also hitting Ukrainian army fuel depots.

Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine's presidential office, said the Odesa attack showed that the Kremlin is ready to endanger the lives of millions of people around the world who need Ukrainian grain exports. Hunger is a growing threat in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and high food prices have pushed more people into poverty.

"The world must realize that the goal of the Russian Federation is hunger and killing people," Yermak said. "They need waves of refugees. They want to weaken the West with this."

The United Nations and Ukraine's Western allies slammed Moscow for halting the Black Sea Grain Initiative, saying it put many lives in peril.

The Kremlin said the agreement would be suspended until Moscow's demands to lift restrictions on exports of Russian food and fertilizer to the world are met.

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Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry also said its forces had foiled a Ukrainian attack on occupied Crimea using 28 drones.

The ministry said 17 of the attacking drones were shot down by air defenses and 11 others were jammed by electronic warfare means and crashed. It said there was no damage or casualties.

The reported attack came a day after the Kremlin blamed Ukraine for striking a bridge in Crimea that links Russia to Moscow-annexed Crimea and is a key supply route for Kremlin forces in the war.

Also Tuesday, satellite photos from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press show that a large convoy of vehicles have arrived at a once-abandoned military base in Belarus, which local authorities offered to Russia's Wagner military contractor following its short-lived mutiny against Moscow officials last month.

The photos, taken Monday, show a long line of vehicles coming off a highway into the base near the Belarusian town of Osipovichi, some 45 miles northwest of the capital, Minsk.

Belaruski Hajun, a Belarusian activist group that monitors troops movements in Belarus, said that a convoy of more than 100 vehicles carrying Russian flags and Wagner insignia entered the country, heading toward the field camp. The group said it was the third Wagner convoy to enter the country since last week.