(BBC NEWS) – Russia has announced it is suspending its involvement in the internationally brokered deal that allows Ukraine to export grain from its Black Sea ports.
It comes after Russia accused Ukraine of a “massive” drone attack on the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Ukraine has not admitted the attack, and President Volodymyr Zelensky called the Russian move “rather predictable.”
Russia also accused British troops of being involved in Saturday’s attack. It also accused the U.K. of blowing up gas pipelines last month.
In its response, the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Russia was “peddling false claims of an epic scale.”
Russia’s defence ministry says drones used in Saturday’s attack targeted ships involved in the grain deal. It said one vessel had received minor damage.
Hours later, a statement by the foreign ministry in Moscow said: “The Russian side cannot guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the ‘Black Sea Initiative’, and suspends its implementation from today for an indefinite period.”
It said the move was “in connection with the actions of the Ukrainian armed forces, which were led by British specialists” and that these actions “were directed… against Russian ships that ensured the functioning of the said humanitarian corridor.”
Moscow claimed 16 aerial and maritime drones were destroyed, and that only a minesweeper had sustained damage.
It is not clear whether that is indeed the case, with reports suggesting that the flagship frigate was also hit.
Zelensky said a strong international response was needed from both the UN and the world’s twenty largest economies.
The White House said Russia was “weaponizing food.”
A UN spokesman said the organization, which brokered the deal with Turkey, was in touch with Moscow.
It added that it was “vital that all parties refrain from any action that would imperil the Black Sea Grain Initiative”, which it said was a critical humanitarian effort improving access to food for millions of people around the world.
The agreement allowed Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports, which had been blocked when Russia invaded the country.
It was personally negotiated by the UN secretary general and celebrated as a major diplomatic victory that helped ease a global food crisis.
But Russia has complained that its own exports are still hindered, and had previously suggested it might not renew the deal.