Russia pounded Ukrainian food export facilities for a fourth day in a row on Friday and practiced seizing ships in the Black Sea in an escalation of what Western leaders say is an attempt to wriggle out of sanctions by threatening a global food crisis.
The attacks on Ukraine's grain, a major part of the global food chain, followed a vow by Kyiv to defy Russia's naval blockade on its grain export ports following Moscow's withdrawal this week from a UN-brokered safe sea corridor agreement.
"Unfortunately, the grain terminals of an agricultural enterprise in Odesa region were hit. The enemy destroyed 100 tons of peas and 20 tons of barley," regional governor Oleh Kiper said on the Telegram messaging app.
Photographs released by the emergencies ministry showed a fire burning among crumpled metal buildings that appeared to be storehouses. Two people were injured, Kiper said, while officials reported seven dead in Russian air strikes elsewhere in Ukraine.
Moscow has described the attacks as revenge for a Ukrainian strike on a Russian-built bridge to Crimea—the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014. It accuses Ukraine of using the sea corridor to launch "terrorist attacks."
Russia said its Black Sea fleet had practiced firing rockets at "floating targets" and it would deem all ships heading for Ukrainian waters to be potentially carrying arms.
Kyiv responded with a similar warning about ships headed to Russia. "Terrorist attacks are when Russian anti-ship missiles hit shopping malls, hospitals, and grain terminals," tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser.
The attacks on grain export infrastructure and anxiety over shipping drove prices of benchmark Chicago wheat futures towards their biggest weekly gain since the February 2022 invasion.
The United States this week condemned Russia's strikes on Ukraine's grain infrastructure, accusing the country of threatening global food security to gain leverage.
"I think it ought to be quite clear to everyone in the world right now that Russia is using food as a weapon of war, not just against the Ukrainian people, but against all the people in the world, especially the most underdeveloped countries who depend on grain from the region, " State Department spokesman Matt Miller said Wednesday.
The U.N. Security Council was due to meet later over Russia's exit from the grain deal, which aid groups say is vital to fend off hunger in poor countries.
Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, a sponsor of the deal, said he hoped talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin could revive it, warning its collapse would drive up prices, create hunger, and potentially cause new waves of migration.
Moscow says it will not participate in the year-old grain deal without better terms for its own food and fertilizer sales.
Western leaders accuse Moscow of seeking to loosen sanctions imposed over its invasion of Ukraine, which already exempt exports of Russian food. Russian grain has moved freely through the Black Sea to market throughout the conflict.
WAGNER NEAR POLAND BORDER
A Polish broadcaster reported on Friday that a military reconnaissance drone of unspecified origin had crashed near a base in southwestern Poland this week.
NATO military alliance member Poland has been reinforcing its border with Belarus, where Russia's Wagner mercenary force has taken up residency after a failed mutiny last month.
Belarus has said Wagner fighters are training its troops near the Polish border. Residents in Poland close to the frontier report having heard shooting and helicopters.
In Russia, investigators detained prominent nationalist Igor Girkin, a former commander of Russia's proxy forces in Ukraine, who had publicly accused Putin and army chiefs of not prosecuting the war in Ukraine harshly or effectively enough.
"This is a direct outcome of Prigozhin's mutiny: the army's command now wields greater political leverage to quash its opponents in the public sphere," said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the R.Politik analysis firm.
Inside Ukraine, four people were killed in 80 Russian attacks on settlements in the southern Zaporizhzhia region over the past 24 hours, regional governor Yuriy Malashko said.
A married couple in their fifties were killed in Russian shelling of the city of Kostiantynivka in the eastern region of Donetsk, the general prosecutor's office said.
And in the northern region of Chernihiv, a woman's body was pulled from rubble after a missile strike, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said.
Russia had already used almost 70 missiles and almost 90 Iranian-made drones to attack so far this week, mostly targeting Odesa and other southern regions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine last year and claims to have annexed nearly a fifth of its territory. Moscow says it is responding to threats posed by its neighbour; Kyiv and the West call it an unprovoked war of conquest.
(Additional reporting by Anna Pruchnicka in Kyiv and Reuters bureauxWriting by Philippa FletcherEditing by Peter Graff)