Ukrainian and Romanian officials said Russia struck on Monday for the first time Ukrainian ports along the Danube near the Romanian border, destroying grain hangars in an expanding effort to destroy Kiev’s agriculture and risking a more direct confrontation with the United States and European allies.
The attack on the port of Leni, across the river from NATO member Romania, targeted an alternative export route for Kiev’s grain to reach world markets, days after Russia scrapped an agreement that would allow Ukraine to transport grain across the Black Sea. The attack is one of the closest the Russian government has come to attacking military alliance territory since Russia launched a full-blown invasion of Ukraine last year.
The harbor strike happened between two o’clock drone Russian authorities have blamed Ukrainian forces for an attack in central Moscow on Monday morning. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told the messaging app Telegram that at least two non-residential buildings were damaged around 4 a.m. local time. He added that there were no “significant damage or casualties”.
Ukrainian and Romanian officials, along with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, condemned the port strike condemn the attack About Ukrainian infrastructure close to the border. “The recent escalation poses serious risks to the security of the Black Sea,” he said on Twitter, adding that it was also affecting Ukraine’s grain shipments and global food security.
Romania’s defense ministry said it remained on “increased vigilance” with its eastern allies. But the ministry added in a statement that “there is no potential direct military threat to our territory or Romanian territorial waters.”
Almost every night since the Kremlin withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative last week, Kremlin forces have launched concentrated attacks on the city of Odesa, about 130 miles from Leni, and the Black Sea port, destroying grain stocks and infrastructure. These attacks, along with warnings from the Russian government that it considers vessels approaching Ukrainian Black Sea ports as possibly carrying military cargo, have heightened the importance of alternative grain routes for Ukraine.
Ukraine, a major producer of cereals and other food crops, exports about 2 million tonnes of grain a month through ports on the Danube, said Benoît Fayo, deputy executive director of agricultural economic research firm Strategy Grains.
Fayo said the attack at Leni, about 110 miles from the coast, could prevent merchant ships from using the port in the short term, raising insurance premiums.
Global wheat prices rose about 5.5% in Monday morning trading.
The attacks on Moscow and the Danube come in the midst of heavy fighting as Ukraine launches a slow counteroffensive to reclaim territories occupied by Russian forces. Kiev has rarely acknowledged attacks on Russian territory far from the front lines, but it’s not the first drone attack on Moscow since the war began.
In May, eight drones targeted the Russian capital Moscow, breaking windows in three homes and injuring two residents, officials said. The airstrike confronted Muscovites with the reality of Russia’s war on Ukraine, which President Vladimir V. Putin has worked hard to shield from everyday life. The attack came after Russian forces launched a series of nighttime attacks on the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
After Monday’s drone strike, footage reviewed by The New York Times showed damage in at least two locations near the Moskva River, south of Moscow. According to the ministry’s website, one of the buildings attacked is about a block from the Russian Defense Control Center, an imposing structure used to conduct “intensive combat control of Russian forces.”
Smoke could be seen rising from the top floor of a skyscraper housing a French housing improvement chain. Other footage shows damage to several structures along Komsomolsky Prospekt (a boulevard near the Ministry of Defense that runs through one of the most exclusive districts in central Moscow), including buildings housing the War College and the Central Military Band, the Russian military’s musical troupe.
It was not possible to determine whether the drone caused any damage. But authorities have blocked part of Komsomolsky Prospekt after discovering a drone, state media reported. Russian authorities said they had destroyed two drones.
Later on Monday, another drone crashed near a residence in Moscow’s Pervomaiskoye district, but no injuries were immediately reported, according to local news outlets.
The Danube port attack occurred over four hours, Olev Kippel, head of regional military administration for the region in Ukraine, wrote in Telegram. He added that Ukrainian air defenses shot down three drones and wounded seven people, three of whom were injured by shrapnel. One was seriously injured.
Mike Lee, director of Green Square Agro consultancy, which specializes in the Black Sea and Eastern Europe, said the attack on Leni was a “massive escalation” by the Russian government in terms of its impact on Ukraine’s ability to use alternative routes for exports.
Russia last year shelled western Ukraine near its border with fellow NATO member Poland, but not on Ukrainian installations so close to areas covered by the military alliance’s commitment to jointly respond to attacks on member states.
Russian war cheerleaders hailed the attack on the port as another step toward destroying the Ukrainian economy and deterring purported weapons supplies by the West.
They say that during the war, Kiev used the port’s proximity to NATO territory and the fact that ships could approach along the Danube instead of passing through Ukrainian waters in the Black Sea as a way to keep exporting grain and other goods.
“They seem to be blocking this way of circumventing the Kiev blockade,” said Russian talk show host Olga Skabeeva. Said on the Russian state television channel. “And soon they will completely deny Ukraine access to the Black Sea.”
A popular war-promoting blog known as Rybar also claimed The port of Leni was used to export grain as well as to supply the Ukrainian army.
On Monday, Russia’s KGB successor, the FSB, claimed it had evidence that Ukraine imported explosives across the Black Sea into one of its Danube ports in May. This claim could not be independently verified.
The Danube Delta, a network of waterways that cross the border regions of Moldova, Romania and Ukraine, was little used for Ukrainian grain exports before the invasion, but has become vital in the past year.
The grain trade, first brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last year, covered three major Black Sea ports, allowing Ukraine to ship more than 30 million tonnes of grain. At the same time, smaller Danube ports that were not part of the agreement were able to ship cargo to international destinations via the Black Sea.
These routes became as important as overland routes after Russia scrapped the Black Sea Agreement as it had to meet its demands. The Russian government has complained bitterly that the deal was biased toward Kiev and that, among other demands, Western sanctions that limit the sale of its agricultural products should be lifted.
The United Nations said Russia’s attempt to block Ukrainian exports would exacerbate the hunger crisis facing some countries in Africa and the Middle East. Ukraine exports grain to European Union countries not only via ports on the Danube, but also by land and rail.
Since the start of the war, Ukraine has shipped more than 20 million tons of grain to foreign markets via Romania and millions more by rail via Poland, an influx that has infuriated Eastern European farmers who say it is driving down domestic prices. Following protests in some EU countries, the EU granted Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia a ban on domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, but continued to allow transit of these items for export to other countries.
The ban is set to end on September 15, and last week ministers from these five countries called for an extension of the ban.
On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed the idea, saying in Telegram that an extension of the ban would be “unacceptable in any way”.
Yuri Shibara, Anton Troianovsky and Gabriela Sa Pessoa Contributed to the report.