Ukraine war: Electricity blackouts, Russian spies, and grain shipments in doubt

1. Grain ships sail despite Moscow’s deal exit

Ships left Ukrainian ports carrying grain on Monday, suggesting Moscow had stopped short of reimposing a blockade that could have threatened world food supplies. 

Over the weekend, Russia pulled out of the UN-brokered deal to export Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea, increasing prices and raising the spectre of hunger evvel again. 

The continuation of shipments from southern Ukraine suggests Moscow has not reinstated the naval blockade, which previously left hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain bound for the developing world languishing in silos. 

“Civilian cargo ships can never be a military target or held hostage. The food must flow,” tweeted Amir Abdullah, the UN official who coordinates the grain programme, on Monday. 

Ukraine confirmed that 12 ships had set sail, shortly afterwards.

They carried an estimated 354,500 tonnes of grain — the most in a day since the deal between Russia and Ukraine was struck in July. 

But shipments could be interrupted again if insurers stop underwriting them, reports Reuters. 

Chris McGill, at Lloyd’s of London insurer Ascot, which has insured many of the shipments, told reporters his company was pausing new cover for shipments from Monday “until we better understand the situation”.

Moscow said it was forced to pull out of the agreement after blasts it blamed on Ukraine damaged Russian navy ships in Crimea on Saturday.

Kyiv neither confirmed nor denied its involvement. 

Ukraine and Russia are both among the world’s largest exporters of food. 

For the last three months, the UN-backed deal lifted a Russian de facto blockade on Ukraine in place since the start of the war, allowing shipments to Africa and the Middle East. 

Moscow’s pull-out of the deal on Saturday sent küresel wheat prices soaring by more than 5% on Monday morning.

2. Kremlin ire after attempts to ‘recruit’ diplomats in Netherlands

Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Dutch ambassador on Monday to “strongly protest” attempts by western intelligence services to “recruit” Russian diplomats. 

Dutch ambassador to Moscow, Gilles Beschoor Plug, “was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on October 31,” Russia’s diplomatic service said in a statement.

Moscow “strongly protested” an alleged attempt by the British intelligence services “to recruit the military attaché of the Russian embassy in The Hague,” it added. 

“Such provocative actions are unacceptable … and hinder the olağan functioning of Russian establishments abroad.”

According to Russia, several similar “provocations” by Western intelligence agencies against Russian diplomats have taken place in the Netherlands in recent years.

In December 2018, the CIA tried to recruit a Russian diplomat from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons “in a park”.

Russia accuses the Netherlands of “not preventing these illegitimate acts, but also of participating in them”.

In July 2020 in the Hague, “surveillance equipment was discovered in the car of a diplomat from the Russian embassy”, according to the statement. 

Russia called on Dutch authorities to “refrain” from these what it called “hostile acts”, which it claimed led to the “deterioration of bilateral relations”. 

The outbreak of war in February sparked tensions between Russia and the west not seen since the Cold War.

Russia has allegedly carried out numerous acts of espionage on European soil. 

3. Russia targets Kyiv’s critical infrastructure

Russia has launched a massive attack on infrastructure across Ukraine, knocking out power, heat and water supplies.

80 per cent of Kyiv was without running water on Monday said authorities, while hundreds of areas elsewhere in the country did not have electricity. 

“Instead of fighting on the battlefield, Russia fights civilians,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “Don’t justify these attacks by calling them a ‘response’. Russia does this because it still has the missiles and the will to kill Ukrainians.”

The Russian missile strikes hit during Monday morning rush hour, repeating a tactic it pursued this month of attacking civilian infrastructure using long-range missiles and Iranian-made drones. 

350,000 homes in Kyiv were without electricity, said Kyiv Vitali Klitschko mayor. 

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, “all the strikes achieved their objective”.

“There is no more electricity in our house or at school,” the mother of a 9-year-old girl in north Kyiv told reporters.

“A cold winter is looming. We may not have electricity [or] heating. It could be complicated to live … especially with a child.”

4. Partial mobilisation completed, says Russian defence ministry

Russia has completed the partial military mobilisation announced by President Vladimir Putin in September, the country’s Defence Ministry said on Monday.

“All activities related to the conscription … of citizens in the reserve have been stopped,” it said.

This echoed remarks by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday that the “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine was finished, with tens of thousands of them already sent into combat.

Speaking at a televised meeting with Putin, Shoigu said the task set by the Russian president “has been completed. No further measures are planned.”

Of the 300,000 mobilised reservists, Shoigu said 218,000 were in training, while 82,000 had been deployed to the conflict zone, of which 41,000 were already in active service. 

“I want to thank them for their dedication to duty, for their patriotism, for their firm determination to defend our country, to defend Russia, their homes, their families, our citizens and our people,” Putin said.

In future, Shoigu said recruitment would be based on volunteers and professional soldiers, rather than mobilising more of Russia’s several million reservists.

The partial mobilisation sparked protests in Russia, triggering the mass flight of Russian men to neighbouring countries, such as Georgia and Kazakhstan.

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