LONDON (Reuters) -Britain on Monday accused Russia of targeting a civilian cargo ship at port in the Black Sea on Aug. 24 in a previously unconfirmed missile attack it said was successfully thwarted by Ukrainian defences.
Ukraine has been making efforts to allow vessels stranded in Odesa port since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to sail into open waters after the collapse of the UN-backed Black Sea grains corridor.
The remarks, made in Britain's parliament by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, are the first time an official has commented on a ship being targeted since those Ukrainian efforts began. Since Aug. 18, four cargo ships have sailed from Odesa.
"Thanks to declassified intelligence, we know the Russian military targeted a civilian cargo ship in the Black Sea with multiple missiles on the 24th of August," Sunak said in an update to parliament on the G20 summit he attended in New Delhi.
The missiles had targeted a Liberian-flagged cargo ship berthed in port and were successfully shot down, Britain's foreign office said in a statement. The missiles included two "Kalibr" missiles fired from a Black Sea Fleet missile carrier, it added.
Russia's defence ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for a comment.
Since Russia quit a U.N.-brokered deal allowing Ukraine to safely export its grain via the Black Sea in July, Moscow has been accused by Ukraine of threatening civilian vessels in the Black Sea.
Both the United States and Britain had warned in July that Russia might expand its targeting of Ukrainian grain facilities to include attacks on civilian shipping in the Black Sea.
"Putin is trying to win a war he will not win, and these attacks show just how desperate he is," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.
"In targeting cargo ships and Ukrainian infrastructure, Russia is hurting the rest of the world."
(Reporting by William James, Muvija M and Jonathan Saul in London, and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Chizu Nomiyama)