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A deal allowing the safe export of Ukrainian grain was renewed on Saturday for at least 60 days – half the intended period – after Russia warned any further extension beyond mid-May would depend on the removal of some Western sanctions.
The pact to allow shipments across the Black Sea was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July and renewed for a further 120 days in November, with the deal due to expire this weekend.
The decision follows days of talks brokered by Turkey to extend the agreement. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the deal is ‘vital’ for the global food supply.
Russia said it has now agreed to a 60-day extension, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the deal had been extended for 120 days. Turkey and the United Nations did not specify the duration.
‘We are seeing reports from parties to the “grain deal” that the deal has been extended for 120 days,’ Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency.
The bulk carrier VALSAMITIS is loaded with wheat at the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk near Odesa, Ukraine on February 18, 2023. VALSAMITIS will deliver 25,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat to Kenya and 5,000 tonnes to Ethiopia within the framework of the Grain from Ukraine initiative
Pictured: Vladimir Putin (file photo). Russia said it has now agreed to a 60-day extension, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the deal had been extended for 120 days. Turkey and the United Nations did not specify the duration
Pictured: Volodymyr Zelensky (file photo). The global food crisis has been fuelled in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, which saw Ukraine’s Black Sea ports blocked by warships
‘We have repeatedly stated… that the Russian side has notified all parties to the deal that it is extending the deal for 60 days.’
The UN, Turkey and Ukraine had pushed for 120 days.
‘This deal is of vital importance for the global food supply. I thank Russia and Ukraine, who didn’t spare their efforts for a new extension, as well as the United Nations secretary general,’ Erdogan said in comments broadcast on Turkish television just hours before the agreement was due to expire.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Friday that the European Union, the United States and Britain now ‘have two months to exempt from their sanctions the entire chain of operations which accompany the Russian agricultural sector,’ if they want the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal to continue.
The global food crisis has been fuelled in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, which saw Ukraine’s Black Sea ports blocked by warships.
But a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022 – and signed by Kyiv and Moscow – had allowed for the safe passage of exports of critical grain supplies.
Ukraine was one of the world’s top grain producers, and the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped soothe the global food crunch triggered by the conflict.
The UN has said it was doing everything it could to save the agreement, which has helped bring the explosion in food prices under control.
The decision follows days of talks brokered by Turkey to extend the agreement. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) said the deal is ‘vital’ for the global food supply
Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that developing nations depend on
The UN statement said the deal had allowed the supply of 25 million tonnes of grain and foodstuffs during its first two terms, helping to bring down global food prices and stabilise markets
‘The Black Sea Grain Initiative, alongside the Memorandum of Understanding on promoting Russian food products and fertilisers to the world markets, are critical for global food security, especially for developing countries,’ UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
This is the second renewal of separate agreements that Ukraine and Russia signed with the United Nations and Turkey to allow food to leave the Black Sea region after Russia invaded its neighbour more than a year ago.
The warring nations are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that developing nations depend on.
Russia has complained that shipments of its fertilisers – also critical to the global food chain – are not getting to global markets, which has long been an issue under the deal that first took effect in August and was renewed for another four months in November.
The war in Ukraine sent food prices surging to record highs last year and helped contribute to a global food crisis also tied to lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate factors such as drought.
That disruption in shipments of grain needed for staples of diets in places such as Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more people into poverty or food insecurity.
People in developing countries spend more of their money on basics like food.
The bulk carrier VALSAMITIS is loaded with wheat at the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk near Odesa, Ukraine, on February 18, 2023
Food prices have fallen for 11 straight months, but food was already expensive before the war because of droughts from the Americas to the Middle East – most devastatingly in the Horn of Africa, with thousands dying in Somalia.
Poorer nations that depend on imported food priced in dollars are spending more as their currencies weaken.
The crisis has left an estimated 345 million people facing food insecurity, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped by allowing 24 million metric tonnes of grain to leave Ukrainian ports, with 55 per cent of the shipments heading going to developing nations, the UN said.
The agreement has also faced setbacks since it was brokered by the UN and Turkey. Russia pulled out briefly in November before rejoining and extending the deal.
In the past few months, inspections meant to ensure ships carry only grain and not weapons have slowed down. That has helped lead to backlogs in vessels waiting in the waters of Turkey and a recent drop in the amount of grain getting out of Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials and some in the US have blamed Russia for the slowdowns, which the country denies.
While fertilisers have been stuck, Russia has been exporting huge amounts of wheat after a record crop. Figures from financial data provider Refinitiv show that Russian wheat exports more than doubled to 3.8 million tonnes in January from the same month a year ago, before the invasion.
Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December and January, increasing 24 per cent over the same three months a year earlier, according to Refinitiv.
It estimated Russia would export 44 million tonnes of wheat in 2022 to 2023.
To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports last year, a three-year deal was also struck in July in which the United Nations agreed to help Russia with its food and fertiliser exports.
Western powers have imposed tough sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. While its food and fertiliser exports are not sanctioned, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance industries are a barrier to shipments.
The pact was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July and renewed for a further 120 days in November, with the deal due to expire this weekend
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded that Washington had ‘gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate the clear carve-outs for food and fertilisers to governments and to the private sector’.
In a letter to UN officials dated March 16, and posted on Twitter by a Russian diplomat on Saturday, Nebenzia spelled out what Moscow wanted resolved – allowing the Russian Agricultural Bank to return to the SWIFT banking system and permitting the supply to Russia of agricultural machinery and spare parts.
Nebenzia also said restrictions need to be lifted on insurance and access to ports for Russian ships and cargo, a pipeline that delivers Russian ammonia to a Ukrainian Black Sea port needs to be restarted, and the accounts and financial activities of Russian fertiliser companies should be unblocked.
The United Nations has said that while progress has been made on facilitating Russian agricultural exports, there were still impediments, particularly in relation to payment systems.
Dujarric said on Saturday that the United Nations was strongly committed to implementing both the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal and the pact with Moscow and urged ‘all sides to redouble their efforts to implement them fully’.