A Russian delegation announced on Monday that Moscow was ready to extend the Ukraine grain export deal following talks with the United Nations – but only for a further 60 days.
The United Nations said in a statement that it “notes” the Russian announcement about the extension and reaffirmed its support for the deal struck in July as “part of the global response to the most severe cost-of-living crisis in a generation.”
Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said that a 60-day extension contradicts the documents signed by Turkey’s guarantors and the UN, but did not reject the proposal.
“[The grain] agreement involves at least 120 days of extension, therefore Russia’s position to extend the deal only for 60 days contradicts the document signed by Turkey and the UN,” Kubrakov said on Twitter.
“We’re waiting for the official position of the UN and Turkey as the guarantors of the initiative,” he added.
The UN and Turkey brokered a deal between the two warring countries in July that allows Ukraine – one of the world’s key breadbaskets – to ship food and fertilizer from three of its Black Sea ports.
The 120-day agreement, which helped take some of the sting out of rising global food prices, was renewed last November. That extension expires on Saturday, and another 120-day extension was on the table.
Moscow has been frustrated that a parallel deal to allow exports of Russian food and fertiliser, which is used across the globe, has only resulted in a trickle of Russian fertiliser getting out and no Russian grain at all.
Rebeca Grynspan, secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN humanitarian agency, hosted a team led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin at UN offices in Geneva, Switzerland.
“The comprehensive and frank conversation has once again confirmed that while the commercial export of Ukrainian products is carried out at a steady pace, bringing considerable profits to Kiev, restrictions on the Russian agricultural exporters are still in place,” the Russian delegation said in a statement. statement.
“The sanctions exemptions for food and fertilisers announced by Washington, Brussels and London are essentially inactive,” it claimed.
As part of the arrangement, Moscow wants Russian ammonia to be fed through a pipeline across Ukraine to reach Black Sea ports for possible export. Russian officials also say banking restrictions and high insurance costs have hurt their hopes of exporting fertiliser.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York following the talks: “We’re doing everything to preserve the integrity and ensure the continuity of the agreement.”
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that it was a “critical moment” in negotiations on the deal, which Washington hopes will be extended before it expires on March 18.
Price said the world needs the initiative, which he said allowed grain shipments to developing countries and helped bring down food prices.
European traders said uncertainty about the talks, especially the statement that Russia only sought an extension for 60 days, was a factor behind sharp rises in prices on the Paris Euronext wheat market.
Why is the deal important?
Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia where millions of people do not have enough to eat. Russia was also the world’s top exporter of fertilizer before the war.
The loss of those supplies, after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, drove global food prices higher and fueled concerns of a hunger crisis in poorer countries.
The so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative involves seaborne checks of cargo by UN, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish officials to ensure that only foodstuffs – not weapons – are being transported.
The amount of grain leaving Ukraine has dropped even as the deal works to keep food flowing. Inspections of ships under the grain initiative have fallen sharply since they got rolling in earnest in September, and vessels have been backed up.
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