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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Russia pulls out of Black Sea grain deal

A combine harvests a wheat field in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region.

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Ivan Nechepurenko

Russia said Monday that it was ending an agreement that had allowed Ukraine to export its grain by sea despite Moscow’s naval blockade, upending a deal that had helped to keep global food prices stable and alleviate one element of the global fallout from the war.

Ukraine is a major producer of grain and other foodstuffs, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision. Millions of people who face hunger, or are struggling, as well as consumers around the world facing a cost of living crisis, will “pay a price,” he said.

“Today’s decision by the Russian Federation will strike a blow to people in need everywhere,” he told journalists.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists earlier Monday that the agreement had been “halted” until Russia’s demands were met.

He added that the decision was not connected to the attack hours earlier on the Kerch Strait Bridge linking Russia to occupied Crimea. Russian officials blamed Ukraine for the bridge attack, but Kyiv has not taken responsibility.

Russia has repeatedly complained about the agreement, which it considers one-sided in Ukraine’s favor. Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday issued a statement that emphasized its objections, including what it described as continued Ukrainian “provocations and attacks against Russian civilian and military facilities” in the Black Sea area, and said that the United Nations and Ukraine’s Western allies had not addressed Russian demands.

“Only upon receipt of concrete results, and not promises and assurances, will Russia be ready to consider restoring the ‘deal,’” the statement said.

The agreement, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative and brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, had been set to expire Monday after a series of short-term extensions.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he would speak to President Vladimir Putin of Russia about the agreement and signaled hope that it could be revived.

“Despite the statement today, I believe the president of the Russian Federation, my friend Putin, wants the continuation of this humanitarian bridge,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said Moscow had broken its agreement with the U.N. and with Erdogan, rather than with his country itself, given that Ukraine had made a separate deal with the two mediators over grain. Ukraine demands a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from its territory and an end to aggression before any talks can take place.

“Even without the Russian Federation, everything must be done so that we can use this Black Sea corridor,” Zelenskyy said in remarks sent by his press office, adding that Ukraine was ready to restart shipments if the U.N. and Turkey agreed.

The deal successfully eased shortages that resulted from blockades in the first months of the war, which caused global wheat prices to soar. It allowed Ukraine to restart the export of millions of tons of grain that had languished for months, and it has been renewed multiple times, most recently in May. Wheat prices fluctuated Monday, exposing vulnerable countries to the prospect of a new round of food insecurity.

But Moscow has complained that Western sanctions continue to restrict the sale of its own agricultural products, and sought guarantees that would facilitate its exports of grain and fertilizers. In an effort to extend the deal, Guterres sent Putin proposals last week that he said would “remove hurdles affecting financial transactions” through Russia’s agricultural bank.

Ukraine has exported 32.8 million tons of grain and other food since the initiative began, according to U.N. data. Under the agreement, ships are permitted to pass through shipping lanes controlled by Russian naval vessels, which in effect have blockaded Ukraine’s ports since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. The ships are inspected off the coast of Istanbul on their way out and in, in part to ensure they are not carrying weapons.

Last year, Russia halted participation in inspections that were part of the deal, only to rejoin in a matter of days.

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