Russia has taken a major step in trying to demonstrate to Western powers that it's serious about freeing up grain passage off Ukraine's coast and in the Black Sea, with on Thursday its military announcing the complete withdrawal of forces from Ukraine's Snake Island.
The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) said in a statement that the purpose is to free the passage of Ukraine's grain exports in a "goodwill" measure. "On June 30, as a step of goodwill, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation completed their tasks on the Snake Island and withdrew from the garrison stationed there," the MoD said.
"Thus, it was demonstrated to the world community that the Russian Federation does not hinder the efforts of the UN to organize a humanitarian corridor for the export of agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine," it stated further.
The statement then called on Ukraine's government to clear its mines earlier placed on the sea coast and in ports which the Kremlin says is the major impediment blocking sea transit. The northwest Black Sea island has been under control of the Russian military since the start of the conflict, making the retreat of Russian forces a rare and significant battlefield de-escalation there.
However, Ukraine disputed Russia's version of events, rejecting that it was a voluntary "goodwill" withdrawal initiated by the Russian side, instead claiming that it was Ukraine's military that drove the Russians from the island.
The head of Ukraine’s army, Valeriy Zaluzhny, stressed his forces had liberated the island. "I thank the defenders of Odessa region who took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory," he said on Telegram. Kiev has said its forces mounted a major series of strikes.
And a representative of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, Andriy Yermak, confirmed that Russian forces have indeed exited the island, writing on Twitter: "KABOOM! No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job."
Bloomberg noted that upon the announcement Chicago wheat futures fell as much as 1.3%, and then pared the loss to trade higher on the day.
Russia has consistently claimed it's not responsible for establishing 'safe passage' corridors on Ukraine's coast due to the presence of thousands of Ukrainian sea mines. The crisis has stoked global prices for vital food products from grains to cooking oils, and fertilizer and fuel. As hundreds of millions of people come under threat of near future famine conditions due to Ukraine not exporting its grains, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, the United Nations has scrambled to broker a deal with the help of Turkey, which controls access to Black Sea waters through its straits.
Ukraine says that it forced Russia to withdraw from Snake Island on two speedboats— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) June 30, 2022
Clashes between Ukrainian and Russian forces continue even though Russia claims it left voluntarily to facilitate grain exports
Meanwhile, hours after the Russian withdrawal announcement, there are emerging conflicting reports that there could still be clashes on Snake Island.