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Ukraine Vows Military Advances as Questions Raised Over Grain Accord

Ukrainian forces will advance this week into areas occupied by Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, as questions were raised over the future of a deal to export grain trapped in Odesa after Russia attacked the port city.

Millions of tons of food cargo have been stuck in Odesa since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February, but an agreement struck on Friday gave hope that it would be shipped out.

But Russia admitted to attacking the city on Saturday.

Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, chief spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, said that long-range missiles hit a warship and a warehouse housing missiles.

Kyiv said that it was able to shoot down some missiles that had targeted Odesa.

Zelenskyy, in a Facebook message posted on Sunday night, said that this week “there will be further advancement of Ukrainian positions − at the front, in diplomacy, in the economy.”

Prof. Volodymyr Dubovyk, the director of the Center for International Studies at Odesa Mechnikov National University, said he was pessimistic about the export agreement.

“The deal has slim chances of working in my view,” he told The Media Line. “But Ukraine needs to at least do what it can to make it work, and if it falls through, it is important for everyone to see that this wasn’t Ukraine’s fault.”

The accord aims to have vessels carrying agricultural products stuck in port in Odesa exit safely and sail through the Black Sea.

After the agreement was signed on Friday, the price of wheat hit its lowest level since the war began, but the optimism was short-lived.

Zelenskyy said on Sunday that there was no way to have talks with Russia after the missile strike.

Dubovyk believes the attack was a message from the Kremlin to Ukraine that it should not relax despite the deal, nor go on the offensive in the south or in Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.

“I think that it tells us that Russia’s intentions are not clear, or maybe ambivalent. In general, one can be pretty sure that Russia does not want to help Ukraine out with this blockade being lifted,” Dubovyk wrote.

He added that Russia likely wanted to reach the deal to improve its image but still seem threatening.

Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı, the director of the German Marshall Fund’s Ankara office, said Turkey would be “deeply annoyed” by the attacks but he did not expect a significant reaction from the Anatolian country.

“If Russia undertakes any action that will result in the collapse of the agreement, it would be a blow to their public global image,” he told The Media Line.

He added that since the missile strikes were not against cargo ships, they did not violate the agreement.

“This is just a show of a lack of goodwill on the part of Russia. There’s nothing in the agreement that would prevent Russia from doing this.”

Analysts said the deal would be a major boost for Turkey’s international reputation.

The signing ceremony was broadcast live by international news channels from the 19th-century Dolmabahçe Palace in central Istanbul.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres thanked Turkey in a speech before the Ukrainian and Russian officials came to sign the agreement, and Turkey’s flag was side-by-side with those from Ukraine, Russia, and the UN.

Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sat at the table with the Ukrainian and Russian officials arriving separately to sign the accord.

Turkey was able to be part of the agreement because it has sought to maintain ties with Russia during its invasion of Ukraine.

Unlike other NATO members, Ankara has not imposed sanctions on Russia and Turkish officials have warmly greeted their Russian counterparts throughout the war.

Erdoğan has strengthened ties with Russia over the years, including buying its S-400 anti-missile defense system, which led to sanctions from the US.

Ünlühisarcıklı said that the attack on Odesa soon after the deal may give Ankara some pause but not alter its position.

“Certainly, Turkey would consider this, but I don’t think that this is going to be a game changer,” he said.