Russia's Withdraw from Black Sea Grain Deal Leads to Attacks on Ukraine's Exports

According to a new investigation, Russian attacks on ports and warehouses critical to Ukraine's grains exports surged after Moscow withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal.

In late July and early August, Russian missile and drone strikes damaged three grain facilities, five schools, a warehouse at the city's airport, and 10 cultural and religious buildings around the city of Odesa, according to the Eyes on Russia project at the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR).

The report comes just days after Ukrainian officials said 13,000 tons of grain were destroyed in a Russian drone attack on the Danube River port of Izmail. That brings the total grain losses for the past month alone to about 270,000 tons, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said.

On July 17, Russia exited the Black Sea grain deal under which Ukraine was able to export to many countries facing the threat of hunger. That was due to sanctions blocking Russian food and fertilizer exports, which has led to food price increases and fears of a global food crisis. Grain prices jumped after Russia scotched the deal. Before it was ended, more than 32 million tons of Ukrainian grain were exported to 45 different countries in the past year under the arrangement, which was brokered between Ukraine and Russia by the United Nations (UN) and Türkiye about a year ago.

Three days after Russia pulled out of the deal, it said it would consider all ships travelling to Ukraine's Black Sea ports as potential carriers of military cargo. Around Odesa city, CIR found extensive damage to several grain storage facilities. According to the report, there was a strike at Chornomorsk port the day after Russia pulled out of the deal. A few days later, there were other attacks at Pavlivka port and Kozatske port in the Kherson region, which is near the Odesa region.

"Emergency services responding to the strike in Pavlivka were reportedly targeted with a second strike, although no civilian casualties were verified," CIR said.

Following an attack in early August, Russian state news agency RIA said the port and grain infrastructure hit were housing foreign mercenaries and military hardware. A naval ship repair yard was also targeted, it said. The Danube River has become Ukraine's main route for exporting grain since the collapse of the deal. The port of Reni, on the Danube River to the south of Odesa, was attacked repeatedly, the investigation found.

Between July 24 and August 16, Russian strikes damaged four grain storage facilities, three warehouses, a grain silo and oil tanks. "All warehouses in Reni that were struck were significantly damaged, likely leading to the complete loss of the grain stored inside them," CIR said. "The strikes also temporarily halted traffic in the canal, creating a backlog of ships waiting at the mouth of the river, impeding trade to and from Romania."

Russia and Ukraine are both major exporters of grain. The head of CIR's Eyes on Russia project, Belén Carrasco Rodríguez, said the investigation revealed Russia's strategy to destroy Ukraine's grain exports. "Pull out of the UN grain deal one day, then launch systematic attacks on Ukraine's Black Sea ports over the following weeks," she said.

"Russia is waging economic war. This surge in attacks in southern Ukraine since July looks like a determined attempt to dominate more of the world's supply of grain." Investigators said they had also uncovered an increase in civilian casualties in areas far from the frontline and damage to schools, cultural and historical sites in the city of Odesa. Between July 18 and 23, there was "severe destruction" in a UNESCO-protected cultural area of Odesa, CIR said.

Shelling cultural and religious buildings in Odesa and Mykolaiv has led to the highest number of civilian casualties away from the front lines of battle since May 2022, according to CIR.

Russia has again reiterated that it will only return to the Black Sea grain deal if the international community ensures it will also able to ship its own grain and fertilizer exports under the accord. That had been made increasingly difficult due to the effects of Western sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to discuss the deal. "In response to a question from the UN Secretary-General about the prospects for resuming the 'Black Sea initiative', Sergei Lavrov reiterated Moscow's position … about its readiness to return to participation in it only if all obligations to the Russian side are actually fulfilled," the Russian foreign ministry said. Lavrov said there were no signs of the West honoring the part of the deal affecting Russia.

Black Sea Tensions increase costs for oil tankers

As military action spikes in the area, insurance companies have increased additional payments, known as war risk premiums, for charterers of vessels shipping oil from Russia's Black Sea ports, Reuters reported. Grain traders have expressed concern about the security of shipments and the rise in the war risk premium for oil tankers shows the worries have spread to wider markets.

Russia has recently reported several attacks at its Black Sea ports. Oil loadings from Russia's Black Sea ports have not been affected by the attacks, but risks are mounting, traders said. The war risk premium was increased from around 1% of the cargo's cost to about 1.2-1.25%, the traders said.

Although the sum is not huge it adds to Russia's overall oil export costs, which have soared since February 2022 due to sanctions. At the peak of the Russian supply and sanctions crisis, Russian companies were paying as much as $31.2 million per tanker towards insurance shipping and freight costs — more than a third of each cargo's value. "Volumes originated from Russia are associated with higher risks than others — the current situation gives insurers lots of reason to raise prices for anyone operating in Russian Black Sea ports," one of the traders told Reuters.