Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Moscow is just weeks away from supplying free grain to six African countries after scrapping a deal allowing Ukrainian food exports through the Black Sea.
His comments during a press conference with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi came hours after Russian forces pounded one of Ukraine’s key grain-exporting hubs overnight with a swarm of attack drones.
Erdogan told Putin that Turkey and the United Nations had prepared new proposals aimed at addressing Russia’s problems with the deal, adding he hoped to reach a workable solution “soon”.
But Putin reiterated that Russia would only return to the landmark accord when its demands were met and instead gave details of the plan for shipments to Africa.
“We are close to completing agreements with six African states, where we intend to supply foodstuffs for free and even carry out delivery and logistics for free,” Putin said.
“Deliveries will begin in the next couple of weeks.”
The UN and Turkey-brokered grain deal, which aimed to ensure safe navigation for civilian ships through the Black Sea, collapsed after Russia pulled out in July.
Tensions have built in the region since, with Russia mounting attacks on Ukrainian export hubs and Kyiv’s forces targeting Moscow’s naval ports and warships.
– ‘Sham’ –
Senior Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak dismissed the gambit.
“Today we have received yet another confirmation that any ‘negotiations’ with Putin are sham and pointless,” Podolyak said on X, formerly Twitter.
“He clearly lives in his own reality, where ‘everyone is to blame but him'”.
In Sochi, Erdogan said there is no alternative to the original grain deal, and that Ankara was working with the United Nations on addressing complaints levied by Russia, which claims its fertiliser exports are being hampered by Western sanctions.
“We have prepared a new proposal package in consultation with the UN. I believe that it is possible to get results,” Erdogan said.
Since the deal collapsed, Moscow has repeatedly attacked Ukrainian ports in what Kyiv says is a cynical attempt to damage its exports and undermine global food security.
The Russian drone attack on Monday hit a grain export hub on the Danube river, Ukrainian officials said, damaging warehouses and agricultural equipment.
Ukraine’s military said Russia had used Iranian-made Shahed drones in the “massive” overnight attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meanwhile said he had visited his war-torn country’s frontline eastern Donetsk region, posting on Telegram a video of himself meeting soldiers.
Earlier, Russia said it had destroyed four US-made Ukrainian military boats carrying troops in the Black Sea en route to the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.
And the governor of Russia’s western Bryansk region said border guards and security forces had “thwarted” an attempt by a Ukrainian sabotage group that tried to cross into Russia.
Russia has this year repeatedly reported Ukrainian sabotage attempts on its borders.
– Ukraine’s attack ‘a failure’ –
On Sunday Ukraine fought off a barrage of Russian drones in the same region, with Moscow’s army claiming the assaults targeted fuel storage facilities in the nearby port of Reni.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov meanwhile announced he had handed in his resignation to parliament after President Zelensky called for “new approaches” to face Russia’s offensive.
Zelensky’s decision to remove Reznikov comes after several corruption scandals rocked the defence ministry, and during a highly-scrutinised Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south and east of the country.
Ukrainian officials spoke of limited progress, but Putin in Sochi claimed that the attempt to retake land lost to Moscow had been unsuccessful.
“It is not that it is stalling. It is a failure,” Putin said.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar earlier Monday had said Russian forces were “on the defensive in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson sectors,” referring to two southern regions that Moscow claimed to have annexed last year.
She added that Ukrainian forces had also captured three square kilometres (around one square mile) near the eastern town of Bakhmut, captured by Russia in May.
In a separate development Monday, Kyiv officials said they had checked all of the city’s secondary schools enabling them to describe as “false” earlier reported bomb threats.
Police also said Monday they had received “information” about explosive devices placed in “all the shopping and leisure centres” in the city, without giving any further details.