Ukraine war update: Weather stalls first grain shipment out of Ukraine, UN secretary warns of ‘nuclear annihilation’

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Storms on the Black Sea have stalled the arrival of the first grain shipment out of Ukraine since Russia invaded. The Sierra-Leone-flagged cargo ship was expected to arrive in Turkey Tuesday, but a Turkish official said it appears now that it won’t reach port until Wednesday, according to an Associated Press report

The ship set sail from the Ukrainian port of Odesa Monday as part of a U.N.-brokered agreement to release stockpiles of grain to foreign markets in an effort to mitigate a mounting global food crisis. 

Officials from the U.N., Turkey, Ukraine, and Russia will inspect the ship upon its arrival in Istanbul as part of the deal.

Rear Admiral Ozcan Altunbulak, a coordinator at the joint center established to oversee the grain shipments, said “preparations and planning” continue for other ships expected to leave Ukraine’s ports, though he did not provide additional details. Future shipments will also include grain and fertilizer from Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the reopening of the port in Odesa a “positive signal” but urged allied partners to closely monitor Moscow’s compliance with the agreement.

“As of now, it is too early to draw any conclusions and predict further events. But the port started working, the export traffic started, and this can be called the first positive signal that there is a chance to stop the spread of the food crisis in the world,” Zelenskyy said Monday in a statement posted on his presidential website.

“We cannot have the illusions that Russia will simply refrain from trying to disrupt Ukrainian exports. Russia consistently provoked famine in the countries of Africa and Asia, which traditionally imported large volumes of Ukrainian food,” he added.

Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said his country will help assure the shipment arrives safely.

World on brink of `nuclear annihilation,′ UN chief warns

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a dire warning Monday that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.” The UN chief cited growing tensions fostered by Russia’s war in Ukraine as well as heightened nuclear threats in Asia and the Middle East at a conference held to review the 50-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty created to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The U.S., Germany, and Japan expressed similar concerns. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test, Iran “has either been unwilling or unable” to accept a deal to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at reining in its nuclear program, and Russia is “engaged in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling” in Ukraine.

Representatives from Russia and China are expected to speak at the conference today. 

Pentagon announces new Ukraine defense package

The Pentagon on Monday announced President Biden’s 17th drawdown of security assistance for Ukraine worth $550 million. 

The defensive package includes additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and 75,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, according to a DoD news release.  Ukrainian forces have successfully used U.S.-supplied HIMARS in recent weeks in counterattacks in Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine’s south, forcing Moscow to divert troops away from the frontlines of the eastern Donbas region in order to deal with the threats.

The U.S. has committed around $8.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, according to the Pentagon.

Griner’s verdict expected ‘very soon’

In other developments, the trial of American WNBA star Brittney Griner continues in Moscow court. 

Griner’s lawyer on Tuesday said the trial should be over “very soon.” Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday, according to Reuters.

Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession charges but has denied any intention of breaking Russian law. If found guilty, she could face up to 10 years in a Russian prison.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that a “substantial offer” for a possible prisoner swap had been extended to Russia to secure the release of Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on espionage charges. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted on Tuesday that any talk of a possible prisoner exchange needed to be discreet after he expressed surprise at the public nature of Blinken’s offer.

“We still believe that any exchanges of information on this topic should be discreet,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “Megaphone diplomacy and the public exchange of opinions will not lead to results.”

Russian court officially designates Azov battalion as ‘terrorist group’

Russia’s Supreme Court has designated the Azov Regiment as a “terrorist group,” according to a Reuters report. The Ukrainian fighters were taken as POWs during Russia’s siege of Mariupol when they surrendered to Russian forces after weeks of defiantly refusing to do so as they hunkered down in a burned-out steelworks factory. The decision has heightened concern over the fate of the Ukrainian fighters.