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By Olena Harmash (Reuters) – Russia destroyed Ukrainian grain warehouses on the Danube River in a drone attack on Monday, targeting a vital export route for Kyiv in an expanding air campaign that Moscow began last week after pulling out of the Black Sea grain deal.
Last week’s attacks mostly struck the seaports of Odesa but Monday’s pre-dawn strikes hit infrastructure along the Danube, an export route whose importance has grown since the demise of the deal allowing Ukrainian grain transit via the Black Sea.
“The Russian terrorists have again attacked the Odesa region overnight. Port infrastructure on the Danube river is the target this time,” regional governor Oleh Kiper wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Global wheat and corn futures rose sharply on fears that Russian attacks and more fighting, including an overnight drone strike on Moscow, could threaten grain exports and shipping.
News website Reni-Odesa cited a local official as saying three-grain warehouses had been destroyed in the Danube port city of Reni during a drone attack.
Video footage obtained and verified by Reuters showed a man cursing in disbelief at several damaged grain warehouses at Reni, an important transport hub across the Danube to NATO and European Union member Romania.
“This recent escalation poses serious risks to the security in the Black Sea,” Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Twitter, drawing attention to the proximity of the attack to Romania’s border.
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine has expanded grain exports overland via the EU to about 1 million tons a month, with large volumes being exported from Romanian ports and along the Danube.
“Russia has in the past months not attacked Ukraine’s overland and inland waterways grain infrastructure,” one European trader said. “Any interruption of this traffic could quickly hit international grain supplies.
A French trader called it a “major development and a major blow” to Ukrainian exports, adding: “Without the Black Sea corridor and now with attacks on alternative routes, it will be hard to take Ukrainian grains out of the country.”
Kiper said: “Russia is trying to fully block the export of our grain and make the world starve.”
Ukrainian officials gave few details but police said warehouses storing grain crops had been hit along with tanks for storing other types of cargo, causing a fire.
Seven people were wounded and one of them was in critical condition, Kiper said.
Police published photographs showing the damaged facilities, and containers marked with the logo of Maersk Group could be seen in one of the images.
Some Ukrainian news outlets reported explosions overnight in the area of Izmail, another important Ukrainian Danube port, but no firm reports of damage followed.
“It (Russia) tries to extract concessions by holding 400 million people hostage,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “I urge all nations, particularly those in Africa and Asia who are most affected by rising food prices, to mount a united global response to food terrorism.”
Russia spoke of taking harsh retaliatory measures against Ukraine after two drones damaged buildings in Moscow early on Monday, including one close to the Defence Ministry’s headquarters, in what it called a brazen act of terror.
Nobody was hurt in the attack, ofwhich a senior Ukrainian official said there would be more, but one drone struck close to the Moscow building where the Russian military holds briefings on what it calls its “special military operation,” a symbolic blow which underscored the reach of such drones.
Roads nearby were temporarily closed, windows on the top two floors of an office building struck by a second drone in another Moscow district were blown out, and debris was scattered on the ground, a Reuters reporter who saw the aftermath of the incident said.
“I was asleep and was woken up by a blast, everything started shaking,” Polina, a young woman who lives near the high-rise building, told Reuters.
A third “helicopter-type drone” which was not carrying explosives fell on a cemetery in a town outside Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement in which it vowed that all those responsible would be found and punished.
The Kremlin said it would press on with its campaign in Ukraine and meet all the aims of an operation which Kyiv and much of the West say is a brutal war of conquest.
The Moscow drone attack, though not serious in terms of its human cost or damage, was the most high-profile of its kind since two drones reached the Kremlin in May.
A swarm of 17 drones also launched attacks overnight on Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding it had used anti-drone equipment and air defenses to bring them down. The Russian-installed head of Crimea said an ammunition warehouse had been struck and a residential building damaged.
“We regard what happened as yet another use of terrorist methods and intimidation of the civilian population by the military and political leadership of Ukraine,” the foreign ministry said of the Moscow and Crimea drone attacks.
“The Russian Federation reserves the right to take harsh retaliatory measures.”
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Moscow needed to broaden the range of targets it struck in Ukraine, adding what he called high-impact unexpected and unconventional ones.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose government rarely comments on attacks inside Russia or on Russian-controlled territory, had on Sunday promised what he called “a retaliation to Russian terrorists for Odesa.”
That was a reference to days of deadly Russian missile strikes against targets in the port city which Moscow says are payback for a Ukrainian attack last week on the Crimean Bridge which killed the parents of a 14-year-old girl.
Kyiv said on Monday that a Russian drone attack had destroyed Ukrainian grain warehouses on the Danube River and wounded seven people.
“Today at night drones attacked the capital of ‘the orcs’ and Crimea,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, using a derogatory term some Ukrainians use for Russians. “Electronic warfare and air defense are already less able to defend the skies of the occupiers.”
Writing on the Telegram messaging app, Fedorov, one of the officials spearheading Ukrainian efforts to create an “army of drones,” added: “No matter what happens there will be more of this.”
Russia’s defense ministry said its forces had used radio-electronic equipment to take out the two Ukrainian drones, forcing them to crash, thereby foiling what it called an attempted “terrorist attack.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the RTVI TV channel Ukraine was guilty of what she called “an act of international terrorism.”
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on his Telegram messaging app that two non-residential buildings were struck at around 4 a.m. (0100 GMT), adding there was no serious damage or casualties.
Citing emergency services, Russian state news agencies reported that drone fragments had been found near a building on Komsomolsky Avenue, which runs through Moscow. The site is close to various defense ministry buildings, including some reported to be affiliated to Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.
Traffic was temporarily closed on the street as well as on Likhachev Avenue, where a high-rise office building had been damaged, Russian news agencies reported.
Attention is now likely to turn to where the drones were launched from and whether pro-Ukrainian saboteurs inside Russia had a role. After May’s drone attack on the Kremlin, U.S. drone experts concluded they might have been launched from inside Russia.
(By Olena Harmash, Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth Addition reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Valentyn Ogirenko in Kyiv, Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Sybille de La Hamaide, Luiza Ilie and Anna Pruchnicka; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Nick Macfie)
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