The Black Sea grain deal is in balance as the deadline looms again

Talks over renewing a deal that allows Ukraine to export its wartime grain via the Black Sea were set to come back to a fever pitch as the United Nations awaited a response from Russia on Sunday on a proposal that could revive the agreement and help keep global grain prices stable.

THE Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, is one of the very few areas of wartime cooperation between Ukraine and Russia. It was first agreed in the summer of last year, allowing Ukraine to restart exporting millions of tons of grain from its Black Sea ports despite a full-scale invasion of Russia that began in February. But Russia has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the deal, which has only been renewed for short periods. The latest deadline for expiration is midnight on Monday.

In an attempt to respond to one of Russia’s key requests ahead of this latest deadline, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, I heard a letter to Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin last week with proposals that would “remove obstacles affecting financial transactions” through the country’s agricultural bank, “while simultaneously allowing for the continuous flow of Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea,” according to a statement of the United Nations.

Two days later, Putin called the deal a “one-sided game,” again threatening to withdraw over what he saw as unmet conditions. This was reported by Tass, the Russian state news agency. “We can suspend our participation in this agreement. And if everyone reiterates that all the promises that have been made to us will be kept, let them keep those promises. And we will immediately join this agreement. Again,” he said, according to Tariff.

The invasion prompted the United States and European countries to tighten sanctions against Russia, effectively turning it into a pariah state. Some analysts have argued that Moscow is trying to use the wheat deal as leverage to ease these sanctions.

Russia has complained that while the deal has allowed Ukrainian food exports to reach markets, Western sanctions have restricted the sale of Russian agricultural products and has called for steps to be taken to ease its exports of grain and fertilizers . The Kremlin’s other demands included the reinstatement of an ammonia pipeline running through Ukraine to facilitate exports, but Ukraine has refused to grant consent.

The deal was first negotiated to ease an exacerbated global food crisis when Russia effectively blockaded Ukrainian ports early in its invasion. Ukraine is a major exporter of grain and other food crops, and global grain prices have soared.

Since the Black Sea Grain Initiative began, Ukraine has used it to export 32.8 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs, according to UN data, and the deal has prevented the crisis from worsening. hunger in some countries of the Middle East and Africa.

Under the agreement, Ukrainian maize and wheat are the top exports, with 90% of maize and 60% of wheat shipped to high- and middle-income countries. Volumes shipped to low-income countries are about the same as before the invasion, according to United Nations data.

But the volume of grain exported from Ukrainian ports to the Black Sea has slowed in recent weeks, according to United Nations data. The same thing happened weeks before the deal’s previous expiration date, in May.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Ukrainian ships were granted safe passage to the port of Istanbul, where inspectors checked them. Empty vessels were also checked in Istanbul en route to Ukrainian ports to verify that they were not carrying weapons or other goods prohibited by the agreement.

Here’s what else is happening in the war:

  • Speaking on Russian state TV, Putin said in clips released on Sunday that Ukraine’s counter-offensive was “unsuccessful” and that Russian forces were holding their own across the front line, even staging their own attacks in some areas. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that Russian forces were throwing “everything they can” against Kiev troops fighting to recapture land in the south and east, again underscoring the grueling nature of the month-long counteroffensive. .

  • In clips of the interview on state TV, which airs Sunday evening in Russia, Putin also said that the recent US decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine showed the scale of the ammunition shortage facing Kiev , adding that Russia may fight back if these weapons are deployed on the battlefield. Mr. Putin falsely claimed that Russia had not used cluster munitions in Ukraine despite dozens of cases documented by the United Nations, especially in the first months of the war.

    The Russian president’s comments, released by the Kremlin on Sunday, hint at the prospect of a much larger deployment of cluster munitions in the conflict, which would risk blanketing the fighting area with unexploded ordnance for years, posing a significant risk to the civilian population .

  • The British defense secretary, Ben Wallace, told the Sunday Times in London that he would step down from his post, probably in the next few months, after four years in the role. Britain has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies since the full-scale invasion of Russia began. Mr Wallace said last week that Ukraine should show more gratitude for Britain’s military support, adding “We are not Amazon,” comments Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has distanced himself from.