US presses, but Russia reluctant on Ukraine grain deal

Russia At War

Cargo ships anchored in the Marmara Sea await to cross the Bosphorus Straits in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022. Turkey’s defense minister urged Russia to “reconsider” its decision to suspend the implementation of the U.N. and Turkish-brokered grain deal in a telephone call Monday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warned that global food security depends on renewing the U.N.-brokered deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports, saying Tuesday that 828 million people in the world are going to bed hungry every night.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that makes it imperative that the agreement enabling Ukrainian shipments through the Black Sea be extended beyond its scheduled expiration in 11 days.

She said at a news conference in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv that, “Ukraine has long been a breadbasket for much of the developing world, but Russia’s invasion turned Ukraine’s rolling wheat fields into battlefields, and Russian forces have deliberately attacked so much of Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure.”

Thomas-Greenfield said she told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that food security is “a personal priority” at a meeting where she also reiterated the United States’ steadfast support for Ukraine for as long as it takes.

During her day-long visit, the diplomat also announced an additional $25 million to help Ukrainians survive the coming winter as Russian troops bombard their infrastructure. And she discussed ways to ensure accountability for the war crimes and atrocities perpetrated on the Ukrainian people.

At a grain storage facility, Thomas-Greenfield told farmers that she still sees Ukraine “as the breadbasket of the world” and that extending the wartime deal to facilitate Black Sea shipments of Ukrainian grain which expires on Nov. 18 is a priority for the U.N.

“This (war) really has had an impact on the entire global food market,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

She said at the news conference that the Russians “have spoiled fields, they’ve bombed grain silos, and literally stolen tractors.”

“These are not only horrific attacks on civilian infrastructure, they are also attacks on the world’s food supply, and they have exacerbated the worst food security crisis any of us have ever seen,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “This extensive sabotage campaign has made matters worse for countries like Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, all of whom are facing famine. And starvation and acute malnutrition are taking other countries by storm.”

Major cuts in food and fertilizer shipments from Ukraine and Russia have contributed to global food shortages and higher prices.

U.N. trade chief Rebeca Grynspan, who is overseeing the Russian side of the grain deal, told the U.N. Security Council last week that Ukraine and Russia provide around 30% of the world’s exported wheat and barley, 20% of its maize and over 50% of its sunflower oil. Russia is also the world’s largest exporter of fertilizers, accounting for 15% share of global exports.

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.”

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.

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, will expire Nov. 19 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 Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Rudenko said Moscow “has not yet seen progress” in the implementation of the deal’s provisions regarding Russian food and fertilizer.

Ukrainian farmers told Thomas-Greenfield 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 grain export 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 to berth Tuesday in Ukrainian ports, to be loaded with 140,000 tons of grain. But his deputy, Yuri Vaskov, charged that Russia has slowed down the pace of shipments.

“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 the Ukrainian news outlet LIGA.net. “The need is 25-30 per day.”

According to the Joint Coordination Center, the Turkey-based body established to oversee the inspections of participating ships, 77 vessels were awaiting permission to enter Ukrainian ports while 15 other ships loaded with food were preparing for checks in Turkish waters.

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