Russia Directly Targets Ukrainian Grain In Reprisal Airstrikes

The port city of Odesa was struck by another missile and drone barrage as Russia now threatens Black Sea shipping.

byHoward Altman|
Ukraine says 60,000 tons of grain in a Russian barrage near Odesa.
via Telegram


Ukrainian officials say 60,000 tons of grain was destroyed in the latest wave of Russian missile and drone attacks on and around the Black Sea port city of Odesa. The attack was tied to Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, according to Ukrainian officials. That followed Ukraine's attack on the Kerch Bridge just days ago. The Kremlin has denied a connection and the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) said it is hitting military targets.

Meanwhile, the Russian MoD on Wednesday announced on its Telegram channel that in conjunction with ceasing the grain deal, “all vessels sailing in the waters of the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be regarded as potential carriers of military cargo.”

“Accordingly, the countries of such vessels will be considered to be involved in the Ukrainian conflict on the side of the Kyiv regime,” The Russian MoD warned. “In addition, a number of sea areas in the north-western and south-eastern parts of the international waters of the Black Sea have been declared temporarily dangerous for navigation. Corresponding information warnings on the withdrawal of safety guarantees to mariners have been issued in accordance with the established procedure.”

At the same time, some 230 miles to the east, more than 2,000 civilians in Crimea were evacuated and traffic along a major highway there is being diverted after huge explosions erupted at a military training base in the Kirov region in the eastern section of the peninsula, occupation government officials say.

While no official reason was provided for the explosions at the base, Kremlin-connected Russian Telegram channels claim it was hit by Ukrainian missiles.

Odesa Attack

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry (MoD) said southern Ukraine, especially Odesa, was hit by the second wave of missile and drone reprisal attacks in as many days.

Ukraine says that Russia launched 31 cruise missiles and rockets and 32 Iranian-made Shahed-type drones early Wednesday morning. 18 of the missiles and nine of the drones hit their targets, the Ukrainian MoD claimed.

As a result of the attacks, 60,000 tons of grain in the port of Chornomorsk, outside of Odesa, was destroyed, Minister of Agrarian Policy Solskyi said, according to the Telegram channel of Odesa military spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk.

That grain was supposed to be loaded on a large-tonnage ship and sent through the grain corridor 60 days ago, but was held up Solskyi said.

“The grain infrastructure belonging to International and Ukrainian traders and carriers Kernel, Viterra, and the CMA CGM Group suffered damage,” according to a post on the Facebook page of the Ukraine Reconstruction Ministry.

On Tuesday night, “the infrastructure related to the grain was targeted and the reservoirs and berths at the port of Odesa were damaged as a result,” the ministry reported.

Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, tied the latest attacks on Odesa to Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal. Russia withdrew after the Sunday attack on the Kerch Bridge

“One of the Russians’ tactics is to launch drones and missiles to exhaust our air defense systems,” Maliar said in an interview, according to The Wall Street Journal. “We have an air-defense shortage across the country. And there are certain types of missiles that we can’t shoot down,” she added, referring to parts of the country not covered by the Patriot air-defense system capable of downing ballistic missiles.

Russia however claims it was striking military targets.

"The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation carried out a group strike with sea- and air-based precision weapons against military industry facilities, fuel infrastructure and ammunition depots of the [Armed Forces of Ukraine] close to Odesa and also against enemy Kanatovo airbase of the Ukrainian Air Force in Kirovograd region," the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) claimed on its Telegram channel Wednesday. "All the assigned targets have been neutralized. The goal of the attack has been reached."

Crimea Attack

There were no casualties caused by the early Wednesday morning explosion at the training base, occupation governor Sergei Aksenov said on his Telegram channel. The cause, he added, is being investigated.

Aksenov also told motorists to find a detour off the E97 highway - a major east-west road - and published a map with directions.

The occupation governor of Crimea is urging motorists to take a detour to avoid the training base that suffered a massive explosion Wednesday. (Sergei Aksenov Telegram channel)

The Russian Grey Zone and Rybar Telegram channels said the explosion was caused by U.K.-donated Storm Shadow air-launched, conventionally armed cruise missiles. The Two Majors Telegram channel said it was caused by a Ukrainian-produced Grom 2 missile.

The distance between the Crimean training base and the closest safe airspace for a Ukrainian Air Force jet to launch a Storm Shadow - over the Ukrainian-held side of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast - is about 145 miles. That is within the 155-mile stated range of the export versions of the Storm Shadow. The non-export configuration has a range of over double that. It is unclear which Ukraine has received.

The Russian training base that experienced an explosion is about 145 miles from the front lines and nearest location that Ukrainian fighters could likely safely launch a Storm Shadow. (Google Earth image)

However, a Ukrainian defense official we spoke with cast doubt on the Russian Telegram postulations.

First of all, the Grom 2 is still a concept, not an actual weapon, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss weapons development.

There have, however, been rumors that Ukraine could be working to bring what was a shelved tactical ballistic missile program into an operational Grom 2. You can read all about that here. But at this time, we have no evidence that this has yet happened.

A mock-up of the From 2 missile at a defense expo in Kyiv, January 2016. (Via open source)

As for the Storm Shadow, it is certainly possible, said the official. But using such a munition against a highly explosive ammunition depot might not be necessary. It was more likely the base was attacked with a Ukrainian-made aerial drone that had GPS guidance that was able to carry a significant payload and travel the required distance, according to the official.

Or it could have been the result of a sabotage operation by pro-Ukrainian partisans, the official added.

Regardless of Russian or Ukrainian speculation, we really don't know at this point what caused the explosion, but will update the story with any concrete details if and when they are provided.

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