MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has bombed infrastructure at a port on the Danube River in southern Ukraine with drones, local authorities said on Monday, destroying a grain hangar in an escalation of its efforts to cripple Ukrainian agriculture, one of the country’s leading industries.
The attack appears to indicate that Moscow, after withdrawing from a deal that enabled Ukraine to ship its grain across the Black Sea, is now targeting the country’s alternative export routes.
Global wheat prices, which rose last week after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal, rose about 5.5 percent in Monday morning trading.
A local news website in the port of Rennie said the attacks took place there and posted a picture of the aftermath. Reni, a city of about 18,000 people located more than 130 miles southwest of Odessa, on the eastern bank of the Danube, across from Romania, is a NATO member.
Romania’s Defense Ministry on Monday condemned an attack on civilian targets and vital infrastructure in Ukraine “located near the Romanian border,” in an apparent reference to the drone strikes. The ministry said it maintains a position of “enhanced vigilance” with its allies along the alliance’s eastern flank.
“There are no possible direct military threats against our national territory or the territorial waters of Romania,” the ministry said in a statement.
The drone attack took place over a four-hour period, Ole Kipper, head of the regional military administration, wrote on the messaging app Telegram, adding that Ukrainian air defenses shot down three drones. He said seven people were injured, three with minor shrapnel and one seriously.
Mike Lee, director of Green Square Agro Consultancy, which specializes in the Black Sea and Eastern Europe, said the attack appears to be the first on the Danube port this year. He described it as a “massive escalation” by Moscow in terms of the impact it could have on Ukraine’s ability to use alternative routes for its exports.
Since the Kremlin withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative last week, its forces have launched attacks almost every night on the Black Sea city of Odessa and its port, destroying grain stocks and infrastructure.
Those attacks, along with Moscow’s warning that it would regard any ship approaching Ukraine’s Black Sea ports as carrying military cargo, have made alternative grain routes into Ukraine even more important.
Ukraine exports about two million metric tons of grain per month through its Danube ports, according to Benoit Vaio, deputy CEO of Stratégie Grains, a research firm in agricultural economics.
Mr Feud said the attack on Rennie could deter merchant ships from using the port in the short term and could raise the cost of insurance. He said the attack on the port was likely one of the reasons for the rise in wheat prices.
Ukraine is a major producer of cereals and other food crops. The United Nations said Russia’s attempts to block Ukrainian exports is exacerbating the hunger crisis faced by some countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. Ukraine exports grain by road and rail to the countries of the European Union, as well as through the Danube ports. Last summer, Brussels took steps to clear the way for overland Ukrainian grain exports.
But after protests from farmers in some EU countries, the bloc allowed Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, though it continued to allow transit of these items for export elsewhere.
The ban is expected to expire on September 15. But last week, ministers from those five countries called on the bloc to allow an extension of the embargo — a call that further emphasized the importance of the Danube river ports for Ukraine.
Yuri Chevala Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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