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335330

WRAPUP 5-U.N. chief delays travel to try to bring Russia back into grain deal

(Adds details from Kherson, paragraphs 27-28)

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Russia says move responds to Ukraine's attack on ships

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July agreement allowed grain exports from Ukraine

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U.S, NATO and EU urge Russia to change course on deal

By Pavel Polityuk and Michelle Nichols

KYIV/NEW YORK, Oct 30 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres voiced deep concern on Sunday over Russia's decision to suspend its participation in a U.N.-brokered deal that had allowed grain shipments from Ukraine, as he delayed a foreign visit to try to revive the agreement that was intended to ease a global food crisis.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, on Saturday halted its role in the Black Sea deal brokered in July, effectively cutting shipments from one of the world's top grain exporters. Russia said it was responding to what it called a major Ukrainian drone attack earlier in that day on its fleet near the port of Sevastopol in Russian-annexed Crimea.

"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the ongoing situation regarding the Black Sea Grain Initiative," U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement, adding that Guterres was engaging in "intense contacts" aiming to end the Russian suspension of its participation in the agreement.

Guterres delayed his departure for the Arab League Summit in Algiers for a day to focus on the issue, according to the statement.

More than 9 million tonnes of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soy have been exported under the deal, which was negotiated by Turkey along with the United Nations.

The Turkish defence ministry said Minister Hulusi Akar was in talks with Russian and Ukrainian counterparts to resume the agreement and had asked the parties involved to avoid any provocation.

NATO said Ukraine's grain exports have helped reduce food prices the world over.

"We call on Russia to reconsider its decision and renew the deal urgently, enabling food to reach those who need it most," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said.

Ukraine's infrastructure ministry said 218 vessels were "effectively blocked" by the decision.

Wheat prices on international commodities markets were expected to leap on Monday as a result, as both Russia and Ukraine are among the world's largest wheat exporters, analysts said.

The European Union also urged Moscow to reverse course.

"Russia's decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea deal puts at risk the main export route of much needed grain and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday called Russia's move "purely outrageous" and said it would increase starvation. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of weaponising food. On Sunday, Russia's ambassador to Washington, snapped back, saying the U.S. response was "outrageous" and made false assertions about Moscow's move.

The Russian defence ministry said Ukraine attacked the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol with 16 drones early and that British navy "specialists" had helped coordinate what it called a terrorist attack. Britain denied the claim. Russia said it repelled the attack but that the ships targeted were involved in ensuring the grain corridor out of Ukraine's Black Sea ports.

'FALSE PRETEXT'

Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the attack. The Ukrainian military suggested that Russians themselves may have been responsible for the explosions.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow used the explosions 220 km (137 miles) away from the grain corridor as a "false pretext" for a long-intended move.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff accused Russia on Saturday of inventing attacks on its own facilities.

Ukraine often accuses Russia of using the Black Sea Fleet to fire cruise missiles at Ukrainian civilian targets, a charge supported by some military analysts who say that makes the fleet a legitimate military target.

Russia's invasion has recently been dominated by a Ukrainian counteroffensive and Russian drone and missile attacks that have destroyed more than 30% of Ukraine's generating capacity and hit populated areas. Each side has accused the other of being prepared to detonate radioactive bombs.

Zelenskiy called for a strong response from the United Nations and Group of 20 (G20) major economies to what he called Russia's nonsensical move on the grain deal, saying in a video address on Saturday that the move threatened large-scale famine in Africa and Asia.

SHIPS BLOCKED

The grain deal had restarted shipments from Ukraine, allowing sales on world markets, targeting the pre-war level of 5 million metric tonnes exported from Ukraine each month.

But ahead of its Nov. 19 expiry, Russia had said that there were serious problems with it and Ukraine complained that Moscow had blocked almost 200 ships from picking up grain cargoes.

The deal ensured safe passage in and out of Odesa and two other Ukrainian ports.

Russia asked the U.N. Security Council to meet on Monday to discuss the Sevastopol attack, Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter.

On the ground, Russian occupying forces were trying to make life difficult for the residents of the southern region of Kherson, Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement on Facebook.

Residents of Nova Kakhovka, near a large hydropower plant in the north of the region, had internet access cut. Cars with loudspeakers were moving through the town telling residents to leave within 48 hours, citing the threat of Ukrainian missile strikes. Shop owners have been ordered to sell all supplies of food products and close down by Tuesday.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Reuters bureaus; Writing by William Mallard, Guy Faulconbridge, Tomasz Janowski, Philippa Fletcher and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Nick Macfie, Frances Kerry and Will Dunham)

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