Turkey said it was "concerned" by attacks on the Ukrainian port of Odessa Saturday as Ukraine blamed Russia while Kremlin denied striking the port, all a day after Moscow and Kyiv penned a deal sponsored by Ankara and the United Nations to resume grain exports.
"The Russians told us that they had absolutely nothing to do with this attack and they were looking into the issue very closely," Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said. "The fact that an incident like this happened after the agreement we made yesterday... really makes us concerned."
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry condemned Saturday's onslaught.
Two Russian Kalibr cruise missiles hit the port's infrastructure and Ukrainian air defenses brought down two others, the Ukrainian military’s Southern Command said. It didn't specify the damage or say whether the strike caused casualties.
"It took less than 24 hours for Russia to launch a missile attack on Odessa’s port, breaking its promises and undermining its commitments before the U.N. and Turkey under the Istanbul agreement,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said. "In case of non-fulfillment, Russia will bear full responsibility for a global food crisis,” he added.
Guterres' office issued a statement saying the U.N. chief "unequivocally condemns” the strikes.
"Yesterday, all parties made clear commitments on the global stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets,” the statement said. "These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and ease the suffering of millions of people in need around the globe. Full implementation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey is imperative,” it added.
During a Friday signing ceremony in Istanbul, Guterres hailed the deals to open Ukraine's ports in Odessa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny to commercial food exports as "a beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”
The agreements are intended to clear the way for the shipment of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain and some Russian exports of grain and fertilizer held up by the war. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion of the country and naval blockade of its ports halted shipments.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press (AP) showed the deals called for a U.N.-led joint coordination center in Istanbul where officials from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey would oversee the scheduling and searches of cargo ships.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that the agreements offered "a chance to prevent a global catastrophe – a famine that could lead to political chaos in many countries of the world, in particular in the countries that help us.”
The head of Zelenskyy's office, Andriy Yermak, said on Twitter that the Odessa strike coming so soon after the endorsement of the Black Sea ports deal illustrated "the Russian diplomatic dichotomy.”
Along with the strike on Odessa, Russia's military fired a barrage of missiles Saturday at an airfield and a railway facility in central Ukraine, killing at least three people, while Ukrainian forces launched rocket strikes on river crossings in a Russian-occupied southern region.
The attacks on key infrastructure marked new attempts by the warring parties to tip the scales of the grinding conflict in their favor.
In Ukraine's central Kirovohradska region, 13 Russian missiles struck an airfield and a railway facility. Governor Andriy Raikovych said that at least one serviceman and two guards were killed. The regional administration reported the strikes near the city of Kirovohrad, wounded another 13 people.
In the southern Kherson region, which Russian troops seized early in the invasion, Ukrainian forces preparing for a potential counteroffensive fired rockets at Dnieper River crossings to try to disrupt supplies to the Russians.
Despite the progress on that front, fighting raged unabated in eastern Ukraine's industrial heartland of the Donbass, where Russian forces tried to make new gains in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance.
Russian troops also have faced Ukrainian counterattacks but largely held their ground in the Kherson region just north of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Earlier this week, the Ukrainians bombarded the Antonivskyi Bridge across the Dnieper River using the U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russia-appointed regional administration in Kherson, said.
Stremousov told Russian state news agency Tass that the only other crossing of the Dnieper, the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, also came under attack from rockets launched with the weapons supplied by Washington but wasn't damaged.
HIMARS, which fires GPS-guided rockets at targets 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, a distance that puts it out of reach of most Russian artillery systems, has significantly bolstered the Ukrainian strike capability.
In addition, Ukrainian forces shelled an automobile bridge across the Inhulets River in the village of Darivka, Stremousov told Tass. He said the bridge just east of the regional capital of Kherson sustained seven hits but remained open to traffic.
Stremousov said that, unlike the Antonivskyi Bridge, the small bridge in Darivka has no strategic value.
Since April, the Kremlin has concentrated on capturing the Donbass, a mostly Russian-speaking region of eastern Ukraine where pro-Russia separatists have proclaimed independence.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized Wednesday that Moscow plans to retain control of the other areas its forces occupy during the war.