NATO on Wednesday condemned Russia’s “dangerous” moves to block Ukrainian grain exports in the Black Sea, after urgent consultations with Kyiv following Moscow’s withdrawal from a UN-backed deal.
“Allies and Ukraine strongly condemned Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal and its deliberate attempts to stop Ukraine’s agricultural exports on which hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend,” a statement from NATO said.
“They also condemned Russia’s recent missile attacks on Odesa, Mykolaiv, and other port cities, including Moscow’s cynical drone attack on the Ukrainian grain storage facility in the Danube port city of Reni, very close to the Romanian border.”
The 31-nation alliance said a warning from Russia to ships in the region covered NATO member Bulgaria’s exclusive economic zone and “created new risks for miscalculation and escalation”.
“Russia bears full responsibility for its dangerous and escalatory actions in the Black Sea region,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
“Russia’s actions also pose substantial risks to the stability of the Black Sea region, which is of strategic importance to NATO. Allies are stepping up support to Ukraine and increasing our vigilance.”
The meeting Wednesday was the second of a new NATO-Ukraine Council that was inaugurated by President Volodymyr Zelensky at the alliance’s summit in Lithuania this month.
Kyiv called the talks after Moscow unilaterally withdrew last week from the deal aimed at securing Ukraine’s exports through the Black Sea.
The council is intended to bolster political ties between NATO and Kyiv and gives Ukraine the right to ask for meetings to discuss issues of mutual concern.
Despite pressure from Zelensky, NATO leaders refused at the summit in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius to offer Ukraine a timetable for becoming a full member of the alliance.
NATO welcomed efforts from alliance member Turkey to revitalise the Black Sea deal and attempts by the UN and EU to try to keep produce flowing out of agricultural powerhouse Ukraine.
NATO said it is “stepping up surveillance and reconnaissance in the Black Sea region, including with maritime patrol aircraft and drones”.
The Black Sea is a key strategic area where NATO allies have been keen to increase their presence.
But Turkey — which controls access between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean — has been wary of allowing the rest of the US-led alliance to exert too much influence in the region.