Russian President Putin Says Free Grain Exports To Africa To Begin In ‘Weeks’

After cancelling a pact that allowed Ukrainian food shipments over the Black Sea, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Monday that Moscow is just weeks away from sending free grain to six African countries.

His remarks came during a press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, only hours after Russian military bombarded one of Ukraine’s important grain-exporting centers with a swarm of assault drones overnight.

Erdogan informed Putin that Turkey and the UN had prepared new suggestions to address Russia’s concerns about the accord, and that he hoped to reach an acceptable solution “soon.”

However, Putin stressed that Russia would only return to the historic agreement if its conditions were honored, and instead provided specifics on the plan for exports to Africa.

“We are close to completing agreements with six African states, where we intend to supply foodstuffs for free and even carry out delivery and logistics for free,” Putin said.

“Deliveries will begin in the next couple of weeks.”

The UN-brokered agreement, which meant to assure safe passage of civilian ships through the Black Sea, fell apart after Russia withdrew in July.

Since then, tensions in the region have risen, with Russia attacking Ukrainian export centers and Kyiv’s army targeting Moscow’s naval ports and vessels.

Drone Barrage 

Earlier on Monday, Russia said it destroyed four Ukrainian military boats built in the United States that were transporting troops to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

In Sochi, Erdogan stated that there is no alternative to the original grain deal and that Ankara is working with the UN to address Russia’s complaints that Western sanctions are impeding its fertiliser exports.

“We have prepared a new proposal package in consultation with the UN. I believe that it is possible to get results. I believe that a solution that will meet Turkey’s expectations will be reached soon,” Erdogan said.

Since the accord fell through, Moscow has frequently assaulted Ukrainian ports, which Kyiv accuses of being a cynical attempt to harm its exports and threaten global food security.

According to Ukrainian officials, the Russian drone attack on Monday hit a grain export hub on the Danube river, causing damage to warehouses and agricultural equipment.

Oleg Kiper, the area governor, stated that air defense systems had shot down 17 drones.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Monday that several of the drones used in the attack had landed on Romanian territory, which Bucharest “categorically” denied.

While the majority of the fighting in Ukraine has occurred within its borders, Kiev has occasionally alleged that Russian munitions have fallen into European countries, assertions that its NATO partners have mainly ignored.

“At no time did the means of attack used by the Russian Federation pose a direct military threat to Romania’s national territory or territorial waters,” the Romanian defence ministry said.

Ukraine’s military said Russia had used Iranian-made Shahed drones in the “massive” overnight attack.

Ukraine’s Attack ‘A Failure’ 

The strikes come a day after Ukraine fought back against a barrage of Russian drones in the same area, with Moscow’s army claiming the attacks targeted gasoline storage facilities in the adjacent port of Reni.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov announced his resignation to parliament on Monday, after President Volodymyr Zelensky called for “new approaches” to counter Russia’s offensive.

Reznikov’s dismissal comes after various corruption scandals rocked the Ukrainian defense ministry, and the Ukrainian leader fired senior military recruitment officials around the country.

“It was an honour to serve the Ukrainian people and work for the (Ukrainian army) for the last 22 months, the toughest period of Ukraine’s modern history,” he added.

His departure comes amid a closely watched Ukrainian counteroffensive in the country’s south and east, which officials acknowledged Monday had made minimal progress.

However, Putin said in Sochi on Monday that the counteroffensive to recapture Ukrainian territory lost to Moscow had eventually failed.

“It is not that it is stalling. It is a failure,” Putin said. “At least today this is what it looks like. Let’s see what happens next.”

Earlier on Monday, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said Russian forces were “on the defensive in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson sectors,” referring to two southern territories Moscow claimed to have annexed last year.

She went on to say that Ukrainian forces had also taken three square kilometers (about one square mile) near Bakhmut, a town in the east taken by Russia in May.

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