Russia has accused the United States of direct involvement in the Ukraine war, as the first ship carrying Ukrainian grain to world markets since Moscow’s invasion continued its passage to Lebanon without problems.
Moscow said on Tuesday it was responding to comments by Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy head of military intelligence, about the way Kyiv used US-supplied long-range HIMARS rocket launch systems based on what he called excellent satellite imagery and real-time information.
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Skibitsky told the United Kingdom’s Telegraph newspaper there was consultation between US and Ukrainian intelligence officials before attacks and that Washington had an effective veto on intended targets, though he said US officials were not providing direct targeting information.
Russia’s defence ministry, headed by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said the interview showed that Washington was directly involved despite repeated assertions that it was limiting its role in the conflict to arms supplies because it did not want a direct confrontation with Moscow.
“All this undeniably proves that Washington, contrary to White House and Pentagon claims, is directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine,” the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.
“It is the Biden administration that is directly responsible for all Kyiv-approved rocket attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure in populated areas of Donbas and other regions, which have resulted in mass deaths of civilians,” the defence ministry said.
There was no immediate reaction to the defence ministry’s allegations from the White House or Pentagon.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of carrying out devastating missile attacks on civilian targets on an almost daily basis. Moscow and Kyiv have denied deliberately targeting civilians.
Supplies of sophisticated long-range weapons systems from Western nations to Ukraine are seen as vital if Kyiv’s forces are to turn the tide of the war, in which Russia relies heavily on long-distance bombardments of urban areas.
The Russian defence ministry statement came after Turkey said that the first ship carrying Ukrainian grain since Russia’s invasion blocked exports more than five months ago was on track to safely arrive in Istanbul later on Tuesday.
The vessel’s departure on Monday from the Ukrainian port of Odesa for Lebanon via Turkey under a safe passage deal has raised hopes of further such departures which could help ease a burgeoning global food crisis.
Turkey expects roughly one grain ship to leave Ukrainian ports each day as long as the safe passage agreement holds, a senior Turkish official, who asked to remain anonymous, was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.
The United Nations has warned of the risk of multiple famines this year because of the war in Ukraine.
Monday’s sailing was made possible after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain and fertiliser export agreement between Russia and Ukraine last month – a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a conflict that has become a drawn-out war of attrition since Russian troops poured over the border on February 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his nightly address late on Monday, called the ship’s departure “the first positive signal,” but warned it was too early to draw conclusions or predict how things would play out.
“We cannot have illusions that Russia will simply refrain from trying to disrupt Ukrainian exports,” said Zelenskyy.
Ship to arrive in Turkey at midnight
Ozcan Altunbudak, Turkey’s representative at a coordination centre created to oversee the restart of Ukrainian grain exports, said on Tuesday the vessel, the Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, was on track to anchor at Istanbul on Tuesday night.
The only issue so far was a slight delay caused by bad weather, he said. The ship, which is carrying 26,527 tonnes of corn, was due to arrive in Istanbul at around midnight local time (21:00 GMT).
It will then be inspected by Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian and UN officials under the terms of the safe passage agreement before continuing its journey to the Lebanese port of Tripoli, its planned final destination.
There are other hurdles to overcome, however, before millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain can leave, including clearing sea mines and creating a framework for vessels to safely enter the conflict zone and pick up cargoes.
Known as Europe’s breadbasket, Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain held in silos and 40 million tonnes from the harvest now under way, initially from Odesa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk, to help clear the silos for the new crop.