By Conor Humphries
MYKOLAIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia is attacking food and agriculture targets in Ukraine in order to scare the world into agreeing a deal to reopen the Black Sea on Moscow’s terms, the head of the region where a major agricultural storage facility was struck on Sunday said.
Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region, where Russian shelling destroyed the warehouses of one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural commodities terminals over the weekend, said Moscow wanted to make global food shortages “look like a catastrophe”.
“They want to do this because they are trying to trade about opening the Black Sea” in the hope of a deal that might allow Ukrainian and Russian grain to use the waterway, possibly in exchange for an easing of sanctions, Kim told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
“That is why they shoot more. Why they shoot the agricultural enterprises and even fields – just for their own movie that fields are on fire,” said Kim, who was speaking outside his former office, which was destroyed by a Russian missile in March, killing at least 35 people.
Since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russia of targeted attacks on infrastructure and agriculture in an effort to provoke a global food crisis and pressure the West.
Moscow, which calls the war a special military operation and denies hitting civilian targets, blames Western sanctions on Russia and sea mines set by Ukraine for the drop in food exports and rising global prices.
BLACK SEA TALKS
Ukraine’s southern military command, in a statement on Wednesday, accused Russia of “attacking farmland and infrastructure sites where fires of considerable scale have broken out”.
A large producer of tomato pulp was also destroyed in Mykolaiv earlier in the conflict, Kim’s spokesman said.
Kim was speaking as Turkish efforts to ease a global food crisis by negotiating safe passage for grain stuck in ports in the Black Sea were being met by some resistance.
Ukraine said Russia was imposing unreasonable conditions and the Kremlin said free shipment depended on an end to sanctions.
The Turkish plan, Kim said, was a good idea, “but it all depends on the cost… what Ukraine should pay for opening the Black Sea”, he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday the onus was on Ukraine to solve the issues with grain shipments by de-mining the approaches to its ports. He accused the West of exaggerating the global importance of Ukrainian exports.
Ukraine, the world’s fourth largest grains exporter, operates dozens of export terminals along the Black Sea, where cities are regularly shelled by Russia. A Russian blockade is preventing Ukraine from using the sea for exports.
Ukrainian conglomerate Group DF identified the target of Sunday’s Mykolaiv attack as its Nika-Tera port facility in Mykolaiv, saying the attack rendered the port facilities entirely unusable.
Kim’s spokesman said the shelling hit a warehouse where sunflower meal was stored.
(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Alex Richardson)