KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian cruise missiles destroyed farm storage buildings in the Odesa region early Friday, Ukrainian officials said, as the Kremlin’s forces expanded their targets following three days of bombardment of the region’s Black Sea port infrastructure.
Other Russian missiles damaged what officials described only as an “important infrastructure facility” southwest of the port city of Odesa, in what appeared to be part of an ongoing effort to cripple Ukraine’s food exports.
Attacks in recent days have put Odesa in Russia’s crosshairs after Moscow abandoned a wartime deal that allowed Ukraine to send grain through the key Black Sea port.
In the attack on the storage site, two of the low-flying cruise missiles hit initially and started a blaze, and then another struck during firefighting efforts, regional Gov. Oleh Kiper said. The barrage injured two people, damaged equipment and destroyed 100 metric tons of peas and 20 metric tons of barley, Kiper said.
“The enemy is continuing terror, and it’s undoubtedly related to the grain deal,” said Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military’s Operational Command South.
Both Russia and Ukraine have announced that they will treat ships traveling to each other’s Black Sea ports as potential military targets.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said the recent strikes against port and grain infrastructure and threats of escalation at sea “are likely a part of a Kremlin effort to leverage Russia’s exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and exact extensive concessions from the West.”
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Western countries should address Russia’s demands in order to restore the Black Sea grain corridor.
“Russia has some expectations. If these are overcome, Russia is in favor of the active work of this grain corridor,” said Erdogan, who helped negotiate the deal. “We know that (Putin) has some expectations from Western countries. Western countries need to take action on this issue.”
He reiterated he would talk to Putin by phone and hoped to meet him in Turkey next month.
In comments reported by state-run news agency Anadolu and other media, Erdogan warned that end of the grain initiative would raise global food prices, increase famine and unleash new waves of migration.
The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said the navy conducted drills that simulated action to seal off a section of the Black Sea. In the maneuvers, a missile boat fired anti-ship cruise missiles at a mock target.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meantime, repeated his claim that Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive is failing, although he offered no evidence.
Putin, whose authority was shaken last month by a short-lived rebellion from a Russian mercenary force, told a meeting of his Security Council that the Ukrainian military has suffered massive losses and the West is struggling to maintain supplies of weapons and ammunition.
Putin also spoke provocatively about Poland, alleging that Warsaw has formed a special military unit to ensure security in western Ukraine and has plans to meddle in Kyiv’s affairs.
In other developments, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the resignation of the country’s culture minister, suggesting the ministry’s spending was misguided during wartime.
“Paving stones, city decorations, and fountains can wait till after the victory,” he said.
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The move follows recent scandals involving local authorities, such as the repair of a cobblestone road in central Kyiv and renovation of a fountain in a city in western Ukraine city.
Zelenskyy also fired the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystaiko, who was also ambassador to the International Maritime Organization. He gave no reason, but Prystaiko had publicly criticized the president on occasions.
Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Turkey, contributed
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine