Ukraine Live Updates: Russia destroys granary in strikes on Danube river port

Russian drones struck a Ukrainian port city on the Danube River, local authorities said Monday, destroying a grain hangar in an apparent escalation of efforts to cripple Ukraine’s ability to export agricultural products, one of the country’s leading industries.

The explosions in the town of Reni — just across the river from Romania, a NATO member — would be the closest Russia has come to hitting alliance territory and risking a more direct confrontation with the United States and its European allies.

Ukrainian officials and Romania’s president blamed the attack on Russia, which had spent the past week bombing Ukrainian ports near the city of Odessa after pulling out of a deal that enabled Ukraine to ship its grain across the Black Sea.

But the strike on a river port 70 miles from the coast appears to indicate that Moscow has broadened its campaign against Ukraine’s agricultural export infrastructure by targeting alternative routes for grain to global markets.

A photo released by the Ukrainian military on Monday showed damage to infrastructure at a port on the Danube River in Ukraine’s Odessa…Operational Command South of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, via Shutterstock

Global wheat prices, which rose last week after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea deal, rose about 6.2 percent in Monday afternoon trading.

A local news site in the city of Rennie, which has a population of about 18,000, posted a picture of what happened in the aftermath. The city is located more than 130 miles southwest of Odessa, the epicenter of recent attacks on shipping infrastructure, and lies on the eastern bank of the Danube, a few hundred yards from Romania.

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Russia has previously fired into western Ukraine near the border with Poland, also a NATO member, but has not hit Ukrainian facilities so close to territory covered by the military alliance’s obligation to jointly respond to an attack on a member state.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Twitter that he Condemned Russia’s attack On the Ukrainian infrastructure close to his country’s borders, he said, “The recent escalation poses serious risks to security in the Black Sea,” as well as affecting Ukrainian grain shipments and global food security. He did not specifically mention the drone strike in Rennie.

Romania’s Defense Ministry said it maintains a position of “enhanced vigilance” with its allies along the alliance’s eastern flank.

“There are no possible direct military threats against our national territory or the territorial waters of Romania,” the ministry said in a statement.

The new attack comes after a week of increased hostilities in the Black Sea region, as Russia sent a barrage of missiles at night to the city of Odessa, while both Russia and Ukraine warned of the possibility of targeting ships heading to enemy ports.

The drone attack took place over a four-hour period, Ole Kipper, head of the regional military administration, wrote on the messaging app Telegram, adding that Ukrainian air defenses shot down three drones. He said seven people were injured.

The Danube Delta, a network of waterways that criss-cross the border region between Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, was rarely used to export Ukrainian grain before Russia began its all-out invasion in February 2022, but over the past year it has become an indispensable lifeline for shipping.

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The grain deal first reached last year covered three major ports on the Black Sea, enabling Ukraine to ship more than 30 million tonnes of grain. But at the same time, the smaller ports on the Danube that were not part of the deal were also able to send shipments making their way to the Black Sea and eventually to international destinations.

These routes — as well as land routes — have become vital with Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Agreement.

Since the start of the war, Ukraine has sent more than 20 million tons of grain to foreign markets via Romania and millions more by train through Poland, a flood that has angered Eastern European farmers who say it has driven down domestic prices.

The attack appears to be the first known Russian attack on a port in the Danube Delta in the war. Mike Lee, director of Green Square Agro Consultancy, which specializes in the Black Sea and Eastern Europe, called it a “massive escalation” by Moscow in terms of the impact it could have on Ukraine’s ability to use alternative routes.

Ukraine exports about two million metric tons of grain per month through its Danube ports, according to Benoit Vaio, deputy CEO of Stratégie Grains, a research firm in agricultural economics.

Mr Feud said the attack on Rennie could deter merchant ships from using the port in the short term and could raise the cost of insurance. He said the attack on the port was likely one of the reasons for the rise in wheat prices.

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Ukraine is a major producer of cereals and other food crops. The United Nations said Russia’s attempts to block Ukrainian exports is exacerbating the hunger crisis faced by some countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan.

Last summer, Brussels took steps to clear the way for overland Ukrainian grain exports. But after protests from farmers in some EU countries, the bloc allowed Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, though it continued to allow transit of these items for export elsewhere.

The ban is expected to expire on September 15. But last week, ministers from those five countries called on the bloc to allow the embargo to be extended — a call that further emphasized the importance of the Danube river ports for Ukraine.

Yuri Chevala Contribute to the preparation of reports.

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