Russia has suspended a UN-brokered deal after a “massive” drone attack on its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol in Crimea. The move has led to condemnation from Ukraine, which has not commented on the attack. The strike occurred earlier today when Sevastopol residents said they heard large explosions occurring in Omega Bay. The Russian-installed governor of the city said Moscow had repelled the attack which he called the “most massive” since February.
Footage also emerged of what Moscow said was a Russian helicopter destroying an “underwater drone”. A Ukrainian journalist later released footage of what was said to be a “maritime attack drone” avoiding fire from a Russian helicopter.
Sevastopol is the headquarters of the Kremlin’s crucial Black Sea fleet. Ukrainian officials do not regularly comment about operations on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
After the attack, Russia claimed that ships involved in the grain deal were targeted by the drones, without providing evidence. Later Moscow announced that its commitments to the deal would be suspended for “an indefinite period of time”.
Moscow also blamed the involvement of “British specialists” who it claimed had also blown up the Nord Stream pipelines last month, there is no evidence for either claim.
The Russian Defence Ministry said on Telegram: “Taking into account… the terrorist act by the Kyiv regime with the participation of British experts against the ships of the Black Sea Fleet and civilian vessels involved in ensuring the security of the ‘grain corridor,’ the Russian side suspends participation in the implementation of agreements on the export of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports.”
The move drew swift condemnation from Ukraine, whose officials have previously warned that Russia would attempt to renege on the agreement.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a Tweet: “We have warned of Russia’s plans to ruin the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Now Moscow uses a false pretext to block the grain corridor which ensures food security for millions of people.
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“I call on all states to demand Russia to stop its hunger games and recommit to its obligations.”
A United Nations spokesperson told CNN that the organisation had been “in touch” with Russian authorities following the announcement to end the deal.
The news comes as fears build that the war in Ukraine could escalate out of control.
Recently, Russia has warned of Ukraine deploying a dirty bomb on its own soil – a Russian official even claimed that Ukraine would deploy mosquitos infected with bioweapons against its troops.
Ukraine and the US were quick to dismiss these claims as part of a disinformation campaign, however it could show that Putin may be ready to escalate as his forces continue to face an extremely difficult situation on the ground.
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Russian forces have evacuated civilians Kherson City in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive and are digging in for a fight there.
Kherson is the only regional capital to fall to the Kremlin’s forces following the February 24 invasion, its loss would be a huge strategic blow for Russia.
There have also been recent reports that fighting has intensified in the east of the country, where Ukraine recaptured huge amounts of land in a stunning counteroffensive which began last month.
As Putin faces losses on the battlefield and calls to do more at home, it’s possible the despot could see no way out of a losing situation but to escalate.