Russia still deciding whether to extend Ukraine grain deal
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations reassured Ukrainian farmers Tuesday that extending a wartime deal to facilitate Black Sea shipments of Ukrainian grain and other commodities is a priority for the U.N.
The agreement, which Russia and Ukraine signed separately with the U.N. and Turkey, is set to expire on Nov. 19. A Russian diplomat on Tuesday cited Moscow’s dissatisfaction with its implementation.
Speaking to farmers and reporters at a grain storage facility in Kyiv. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she saw Ukraine “as the breadbasket of the world.”
“This (war) really has had an impact on the entire global food market that you are not able to get your grains out,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Russia briefly suspended its participation in the deal last week, alleging a Ukrainian drone attack on its Black Sea fleet in Crimea on Oct. 29. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
Ukraine and Russia both are major global exporters of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other products, and the war has caused shortages and fueled worries of a hunger crisis in poorer nations.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Andrey Rudenko, said Tuesday that the Kremlin has not yet decided whether to extend its agreement with Turkey and the U.N.
“We still have time. We are looking at how this deal is being implemented following the restoration of our participation,” Rudenko said. “We are very dissatisfied with how the Russian part is being implemented, where the U.N. has taken responsibility for solving problems.”
Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements on July 22 for a Black Sea corridor that cleared the way for the export of grain out of three Ukrainian ports, as well as for shipments of Russian grain and fertilizer. The deal, which established an inspection and monitoring system so cargo ships could travel safely, will expire next week unless it is renewed.
Russia’s U.N. representatives said last month that a renewed agreement must allow for increased Russian exports of food and fertilizer. Although international sanctions did not target those goods, shipping and insurance companies have been reluctant to deal with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Rudenko said Moscow “has not yet seen progress” in the implementation of the deal’s provisions regarding Russian food and fertilizer. He said “all factors will be considered” by Moscow as it mulls whether to approve an extension.
Ukrainian farmers told Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador, they wanted milled wheat to be part of any renewed deal. Currently, only unmilled grains are covered.
Sergii Kurdytskyi, executive director for Gospodar, a grain and dairy cooperative, told The Associated Press that production and market confidence would suffer if the deal does not continue.
The grain initiative was a rare example of cooperation between Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian ports were blockaded and mined early in the war, but more than 10 million tons of grain have left the Ukrainian ports for destinations in Africa, Asia and Europe since the Black Sea corridor was established in July.
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, wrote on Twitter that seven more ships were scheduled to berth in one of the three ports Tuesday, to be loaded with an additional 140,000 tons of grain.
Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuri Vaskov alleged that Russia has slowed the pace of shipments, first by suspending its participation in the deal and now by slowing the number of inspections.
“Today we have returned to the same problems. Joint inspections have resumed. All four parties participate in the inspection. But now they are planned on average only 12 per day, of which eight or nine are actually completed,” Vaslov told Ukrainian news outlet LIGA.net. “At the same time, the need is 25-30 per day.”
According to the Joint Coordination Center (JCC), the Turkey-based body established under the deal to oversee the inspections of participating ships for weapons, 77 vessels were awaiting permission to enter the Ukrainian ports, while 15 ships loaded with foodstuffs were preparing for checks in Turkish territorial waters.