BRUSSELS, July 26 (Reuters) – NATO said on Wednesday it was stepping up surveillance of the Black Sea region as it condemned Russia’s exit from a deal assuring the safe passage of ships carrying Ukrainian grain.
The announcement came after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, a body established earlier this month to coordinate cooperation between the Western military alliance and Kyiv.
“Allies and Ukraine strongly condemned Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal and its deliberate attempts to stop Ukraine’s agricultural exports on which hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend,” NATO said in a statement.
“NATO and Allies are stepping up surveillance and reconnaissance in the Black Sea region, including with maritime patrol aircraft and drones,” the statement said.
The deal that has allowed the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine’s grain for the past year expired on July 17 after Russia quit in a move the United Nations said would “strike a blow to people in need everywhere.”
Moscow suggested it would consider reviving the deal if demands to improve exports of its own grain and fertilizer were met.
COUNCIL CRITICISES POSSIBLE NAVIGATION THREATS
The NATO statement criticized a Russian warning that parts of the Black Sea’s international waters were temporarily unsafe for navigation.
Russia also said that ships traveling to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports would be seen as possibly carrying military cargoes.
“Allies noted that Russia’s new warning area in the Black Sea, within Bulgaria’s exclusive economic zone, has created new risks for miscalculation and escalation, as well as serious impediments to freedom of navigation,” the NATO statement said.
Bulgaria is a member of NATO.
NATO also said it condemned recent Russian attacks on Odesa, Mykolaiv and other port cities, including a drone strike on a Ukrainian grain storage facility in the Danube port city of Reni, near the border with NATO-member Romania.
“We remain ready to defend every inch of Allied territory from any aggression,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the Council’s “?lear and unequivocal condemnation” of Russia’s pullout from the grain deal.
“Established only two weeks ago in Vilnius, the Council has already proved to be an effective mechanism for crisis consultations,” Zelenskiy posted, in English, on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Ukraine, he wrote, would “continue to fulfill its obligations in providing global food security… We stay united with the Alliance as we are moving along the path towards our NATO membership.”
The Council was set up at the Alliance’s summit this month in Lithuania, where members offered Kyiv ammunition and weapons but could not consider membership while Ukraine is at war.
(Reporting by Andrew Gray, Editing by Ron Popeski, William Maclean)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.
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