Russia scraps vital deal allowing Ukraine to export grain after Crimean bridge attack

17 July 2023, 10:19 | Updated: 17 July 2023, 11:13

Putin has scrapped the grain deal
Putin has scrapped the grain deal. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Russia is stopping a deal that allows Ukraine to export its vital grain after its bridge to occupied Crimea was attacked.

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Footage showed the Kerch bridge, which connects mainland to Russia to the peninsula, had been heavily damaged.

The deal was due to expire on Monday if the Kremlin did not agree to an extension, and it did not appear willing to even before the attack.

Vladimir Putin had told the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, that the deal had not met its objectives.

The agreement was struck to allow cargo ships to carry grain from Ukraine's fields and over the Black Sea without being attacked by Russia's military.

The Kerch bridge has been battered
The Kerch bridge has been battered. Picture: Alamy

Putin's navy had imposed a blockade though found this hard to do as ships came under attack, leading to the humiliating sinking of the flagship Moskva.

The pact helped developing countries which rely on the grain, with just over a quarter of exports going to lower income countries like Egypt and Sudan, and stabilised food prices. It was last renewed in May.

Putin demanded restrictions on Russia's own food exports be lifted and said a bank used for agricultural payments, Rosselhkozbank, should be plugged back into the Swift international transfer system.

The country's banks were booted out as part of the sanctions imposed for its invasion.

Confirmation the pact would not be renewed came after Ukraine struck the Kerch bridge.

Read more: Russian mother and father killed in 'drone attack' on bridge linking Crimean peninsula to Russia

Ukrainian grain is vital to developing countries
Ukrainian grain is vital to developing countries. Picture: Alamy

The structure was built after Russia took Crimea, a peninsula that holds an important place in the heart of many Ukrainians and Russians, by force in 2014 and illegally annexed it.

The bridge was opened to Kremlin fanfare in 2018. The crossing, which has a road and rail line, has been used by the military to supply the peninsula and its forces in southern Ukraine.

Two people were said to have been killed in the attack overnight.

Explosions, believed to have been a drone strike, damaged the road section.

Read more: Joe Biden admits he is considering sending Ukraine long range missiles that could hit Russia

The victims have been identified as a Russian mother and father from the Belgorod region, according to the area's governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

He said their daughter, who was with them at the time, was "moderately injured".

Ukraine has not admitted responsibility for the attacks, but it ramps up pressure on Russia to defend its captured territory.

Putin had already signalled he would not renew the deal
Putin had already signalled he would not renew the deal. Picture: Alamy

"Any illegal structures used to deliver Russian instruments of mass murder are necessarily short-lived - regardless of the reasons for the destruction," said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.

A spokesperson for Ukraine's SBU security service said "we are watching with interest as one of the symbols of Putin's regime once again failed to withstand the military load".

Russia has branded strikes against the bridge as terror attacks and the notorious foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed, without any evidence, the US and UK were involved.

Experts have suggested a key part of Kyiv's counter attack strategy would be to isolate Crimea, both by attacking this link and the land bridge Putin's army has carved out in occupied south east Ukraine.

The taking of Crimea is one of Putin's crowning "achievements" and the risk of being unable to defend it would be a worst-case scenario for the president.

It was hit in October 2022, collapsing parts of it before accelerated repairs allowed it to reopen in January.

Blocks on grain exports risk seriously harming the supply of food in countries that need it the most.

During talks with the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres ahead of the last deal, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his government is "interested in ensuring that there is no hunger in the world".

Almost half the grain goes to high-income countries, like Spain and Italy, the UN says.

At least 30m tonnes of grain and foods were shipped from Ukraine via the deal.