Russia accuses US of direct Ukraine war role, grain ship sighted off Turkey

Russia accuses US of direct Ukraine war role, grain ship sighted off Turkey

The Razoni’s departure on Monday from the Ukrainian port of Odesa for Lebanon via Turkey under a Jul 22 safe passage deal has raised hopes of further such departures, which could help ease a burgeoning global food shortage.

Loaded with 26,527 tonnes of corn, the ship was to be inspected by Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian and UN officials on Wednesday morning before continuing to its planned final destination, the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

Turkey expects roughly one grain ship to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports each day as long as the safe passage agreement holds, a senior Turkish official, who asked to remain anonymous, said on Tuesday.

The United Nations has warned of the risk of multiple famines this year because of the war in Ukraine.

Monday’s sailing was made possible after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain and fertiliser export agreement between Russia and Ukraine – a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a conflict that has become a drawn-out war of attrition since Russian troops poured over the border on Feb 24.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy called the Razoni’s departure “the first positive signal” but warned it was too early to predict how things would play out.

“We cannot have illusions that Russia will simply refrain from trying to disrupt Ukrainian exports,” he said.

For the safe passage deal to stick, there are other hurdles to overcome, including clearing sea mines and creating a framework for vessels to safely enter the Ukraine conflict zone and pick up cargoes.

Known as Europe’s breadbasket, Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain held in silos and 40 million tonnes from the harvest now under way, initially from Odesa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk, to help clear silos for the new crop.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of laying mines that now float around the Black Sea and represent a hazard to shipping.

Russia has called the Razoni’s departure “very positive” news. It has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying Western sanctions have slowed its exports.

Adding to those sanctions, the United States on Tuesday targeted Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast the Treasury Department described as having a close relationship with Putin. Putin has denied they are romantically linked.

The Treasury Department said in a statement Kabaeva heads the National Media Group, a pro-Kremlin group of television, radio and print organizations. The sanctions also target Publichnoe Aktsionernoe Obschestvo Magnitogorskiy Metallurgicheskiy Kombinat (MMK), one of the world’s largest steel producers, as well as the majority owner and chairman of the board of directors, Viktor Filippovich Rashnikov, the Treasury said.

In Moscow, Russia’s top court designated Ukraine’s Azov Regiment a terrorist group, a Reuters correspondent in the courtroom said, paving the way for captured soldiers to be tried under tough anti-terror laws and be jailed for up to 20 years.

The Azov Regiment, which has far-right and ultra-nationalist roots, has been one of the most prominent Ukrainian military formations fighting Russia in eastern Ukraine. Having begun as a paramilitary unit to take on pro-Russian separatist rebels in 2014, it was later integrated into Ukraine’s national guard.

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