Russia has announced it is suspending its involvement in the internationally-brokered deal that allows Ukraine to export grain from its Black Sea ports.
It comes after Russia accused Ukraine of a “massive” drone attack on the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Ukraine has not admitted the attack and President Volodymyr Zelensky called the Russian move “rather predictable”.
Without providing evidence, Russia also accused British troops of being involved in Saturday’s attack.
It also accused the UK of blowing up gas pipelines last month.
In its response, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Russia was “peddling false claims of an epic scale”.
Russia’s defence ministry says drones used in Saturday’s attack targeted ships involved in the grain deal. It said one vessel had received minor damage.
Hours later, a statement by the foreign ministry in Moscow said: “The Russian side cannot guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the ‘Black Sea Initiative’, and suspends its implementation from today for an indefinite period.”
It said the move was “in connection with the actions of the Ukrainian armed forces, which were led by British specialists” and that these actions “were directed… against Russian ships that ensured the functioning of the said humanitarian corridor”.
Moscow claimed 16 aerial and maritime drones were destroyed, and that only a minesweeper had sustained damage.
It is not yet clear whether that is indeed the case, with reports suggesting that the flagship frigate was also hit. Claims and counterclaims have become part of this war.
President Zelensky said Russia’s decision was not one that had been made today, but in September “when it blocked the movement of ships with our food produce”.
“Why is it that some handful of individuals somewhere in the Kremlin can decide whether there will be food on the tables of people in Egypt or in Bangladesh?” he added.
Zelensky said a strong international response was needed from both the UN and the world’s twenty largest economies.
The White House said Russia was “weaponising food”.
A UN spokesman said the organisation, which brokered the deal with Turkey, was in touch with Moscow.
It added that it was “vital that all parties refrain from any action that would imperil the Black Sea Grain Initiative”, which it said was a critical humanitarian effort improving access to food for millions of people around the world.
The agreement allowed Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports, which had been blocked when Russia invaded the country.
It was personally negotiated by the UN secretary general and celebrated as a major diplomatic victory that helped ease a global food crisis. (BBC)