Russia bombarded the port city of Odesa for a second consecutive day Wednesday, damaging agricultural infrastructure in the region, including a terminal partially owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
The attacks come on the heels of a Kremlin announcement Monday that it was ending a year-old pact that allowed for the safe passage of Ukrainian agricultural products through a Russian naval blockade. Odesa was the main centre of operations for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal the United Nations credited with bringing 33 million tonnes of corn, wheat and other grains to market, lowering world food prices by 20 per cent.
Late Wednesday, Russia’s Defence Ministry further increased the tension with a warning that, as of midnight Moscow time, “all ships proceeding to Ukrainian ports in Black Sea waters will be considered as potential carriers of military cargo.” Ukraine had previously suggested that it would ask grain carriers to continue shipments, even though Russia had withdrawn its guarantee of safe passage.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of targeting Ukraine’s agricultural sector with the attacks on Odesa. The Ministry of Agriculture reported that 60,000 tonnes of grain, which ordinarily would have been exported under the agreement, were destroyed in Wednesday’s attack.
“Russian terrorists absolutely deliberately targeted the infrastructure of the grain deal,” Mr. Zelensky said via the Telegram messaging app. “Every Russian missile is a strike not only on Ukraine but on everyone in the world who wants normal and safe life.”
Ukrainian authorities said Russia launched 63 cruise missiles and explosive drones early Wednesday, 37 of which were shot down by air defences. Odesa, on the country’s Black Sea coast, took the brunt of the attack, with 12 people reported injured when Kh-22 and Oniks missiles struck grain and oil terminals, as well as two warehouses and another unspecified industrial facility.
One target was the IGT LLC grain terminal, in the Odesa region city of Chernomorsk. The terminal is owned by Viterra, a company descended from the historic Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta wheat pools.
“We can confirm that our joint venture grain export terminal in Chernomorsk was damaged by a missile strike,” a Regina-based Viterra spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement to The Globe and Mail. “At the time of the missile strike the terminal was not operational. Fortunately there were no injuries, and we are currently assessing the extent of the damages.”
One Viterra employee was injured last summer in a Russian cruise missile attack on the company’s vegetable oil terminal in the city of Mykolaiv.
Viterra is currently controlled by Glencore PLC, a Swiss-based global commodities trader, which is in the process of selling its 49.9-per-cent share to U.S. agribusiness giant Bunge Ltd. The transaction is being scrutinized by the Competition Bureau. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), which owns 40 per cent of Viterra, supports the sale and will retain a 12-per-cent stake in the merged company if the deal goes through. British Columbia Investment Management Corp. (BCI) owns the remaining 10 per cent of Viterra.
CPPIB and BCI declined to comment Wednesday on the Russian attack on the terminal.
Odesa was also struck hard Tuesday in what Russia’s Defence Ministry said was “a mass retaliatory strike” for a Monday explosion that killed two people on the Kerch Bridge, which connects the occupied Crimean Peninsula to Russia.
Oleksiy Goncharenko, an independent Ukrainian MP from Odesa, told The Globe the attacks on his city were connected to the grain deal, not the bridge blast. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said, appeared to be switching from threatening the world with a nuclear disaster to pressuring the West via rising food prices.
“Obviously, Putin shows that he does not want to negotiate and there will be no grain deal,” Mr. Goncharenko said. “The Russians say that these are ‘retribution strikes’ for the Crimean Bridge, but they have been hitting our cities for a year-and-a-half already. Therefore, I think this is Putin’s next blackmail. Not nuclear, blackmail has begun with food.”
Russia, which is seeking a modification of Western sanctions against its banking sector, has been accused of weaponizing food by withdrawing from the deal, which allowed Ukrainian ships to cross through the Russian naval blockade to Turkey, where they were inspected by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials. The UN’s World Food Programme, which delivers aid to Afghanistan, Yemen and East Africa, bought 80 per cent of its wheat from Ukraine in the first half of 2023.
Mr. Putin said Wednesday that Russia would return to the grain deal “immediately” if its conditions were met. Moscow is believed to be seeking an easing of Western sanctions so that its Russian Agricultural Bank can be reconnected to the SWIFT banking system, which would facilitate international payments for Russia’s own agricultural goods.
Several residential buildings in Odesa were damaged in Tuesday’s missile and drone strikes. Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesperson for the regional military administration, said the city had experienced a “hellish night,” describing the attack as “very powerful, truly massive.”
Though Ukraine has not officially acknowledged involvement in the attack on the Kerch Bridge, it did claim responsibility for a fire that broke out early Wednesday at a military training base in the occupied region. “A successful operation was conducted in the occupied Crimea,” Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence service, said via Telegram. “The enemy hides the extent of the damage and the number of casualties.”
Russian officials in Crimea acknowledged that more than 2,200 people were evacuated from four villages because of a fire at a military facility.
With files from David Milstead