Negotiations on the renewal of an agreement that allows Ukraine to export its grain across the war-torn Black Sea were set to go down to the wire again, as the United Nations awaited a response from Russia on Sunday on a proposal that could revive the deal. 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 last summer, allowing Ukraine to resume exporting millions of tonnes of grain from its Black Sea ports despite Russia’s full-scale invasion that began in February. But Russia has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the agreement, which has only been renewed for short periods. The latest deadline for expiry is midnight on Monday.
In order to answer one of the main demands of Russia before this last deadline, the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, sent a letter to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia last week with proposals that would “remove obstacles affecting financial transactions” through the country’s agricultural bank, “and at the same time allow the continued flow of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea,” according to a UN statement.
Two days later, Mr Putin called the deal a “one-sided game”, again threatening to pull out of it over what he considered unfulfilled terms, Tass, Russia’s state news agency reported. “We can suspend our participation in this agreement. And if everyone repeats that all the promises made to us will be fulfilled – let them fulfill these promises. And we will immediately join this agreement. Again,” he said, according to Tass.
The invasion prompted the United States and European countries to tighten sanctions against Russia, effectively making it a pariah state. Some analysts have argued that Moscow is trying to use the grain deal as leverage to ease these sanctions.
Russia complained that while the agreement allowed Ukraine’s food exports to reach markets, the Western sanctions restricted the sale of Russia’s agricultural products, and demanded that steps be taken to facilitate its own exports of grain and fertilizers. The Kremlin’s other demands included restoring an ammonia pipeline that crosses Ukraine to facilitate exports, but Ukraine refused to give consent.
The deal was first brokered to ease a global food crisis exacerbated when Russia effectively blockaded Ukrainian ports at the start of its invasion. Ukraine is a major exporter of grain and other foodstuffs, and global wheat prices have soared.
Since the start of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Ukraine has used it to export 32.8 million tons of grain and other food, according to UN data, and the deal has prevented a hunger crisis in some countries in the Middle East and Africa from worsening. But the volume of grain exported from Ukrainian Black Sea ports has slowed in recent weeks, according to UN data. The same thing happened weeks before the previous deadline of the agreement, in May.
Under the terms of the agreement, Ukraine’s ships were given safe passage to the port in Istanbul, where inspectors checked them. Empty ships were also checked in Istanbul en route to Ukraine’s ports to check that they were not carrying weapons or other goods prohibited under the agreement.