On Tuesday, the Togliatti-Odessa ammonia pipeline, the largest in the world, burst near Kupiansk, Kharkiv, resulting in the release of clouds of ammonia gas. The area of the burst sits along the “grey zone” of frontline positions, meaning that it wasn’t controlled by one particular side.
Over the past two days, Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of shelling the area and causing the burst. During a press conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that the pipeline’s destruction was a “consequence of war” caused by shelling rather than a deliberate sabotage act by Russian forces.
“It’s one story when you have no evidence of sabotage and when it is clear that there is a war going on there, and there is a grey zone, and in the grey zone one weapon or another could have been used – most likely, artillery. It’s one story when it’s the consequences of war. Yes, the Russian Federation is to blame, but those are the consequences of war,” Zelensky said.
Russian media publish footage of the consequences of damage to the ammonia pipeline "Tolyatti – Odesa" in the Kupiansk district of the Kharkiv region. pic.twitter.com/ElXJT38FjG
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) June 7, 2023
He went on to compare this to the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, saying that “But here [in Nova Kakhovka], we understand that this is terrorism. They mined it in advance and did it with their own hands. We see this as a completely different categorization.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s Ministry of Defense has accused Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups of blowing up the pipeline, further claiming that some civilians were wounded by the gas.
The pipeline has been inactive since the outbreak of the invasion in February 2022. In recent weeks, the pipeline has become a major point of contention in regards to extending the Black Sea grain deal between Ukraine and Russia. For Russia, they want to restart the pipeline to resume ammonia exports, which under the grain deal would be exempt from western sanctions due to its use in fertilizers. Russia also threatened to restrict the number of vessels allowed to travel to Odessa unless the pipeline is restarted.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has opposed restarting the pipeline unless Russia agrees to expand the grain deal to cover more Ukrainian ports and commodities. With the pipeline’s destruction, the grain deal runs the risk of not being extended.