UN chief urges Ukraine and Russia to continue grain deal’s ‘spirit of compromise’
By Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Dan Bilefsky and Farnaz Fassihi
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged Moscow and Kyiv on Thursday to continue to show the “spirit of compromise” that led to a breakthrough grain deal, but any hope for ending the conflict through diplomacy appeared far off.
Guterres traveled to western Ukraine and met with the Ukrainian and Turkish presidents. There, they assessed the state of grain exports, which have been steadily flowing from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the beginning of the month, and discussed the hopes for a political solution to end the violence.
The risks posed by fighting near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia was also a topic at the meeting, and Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Thursday that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency had accepted a Ukrainian invitation to lead a delegation to the plant.
“From day one, the parties have worked professionally and in good faith to keep the food flowing,” Guterres said at a news conference after the meeting, referring an agreement last month to allow Ukrainian grain exports to resume flowing from Black Sea ports. “I appeal for this to continue and for them to overcome all obstacles in the spirit of compromise and permanently settle all differences.”
But Thursday’s news conference came as requests from Guterres and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for Russia and Ukraine to sit down at the negotiating table have been buried in issues that have only exacerbated the two sides’ willingness to keep fighting.
During his opening remarks, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine recounted a conversation he had with Erdogan earlier in the day. The Turkish president said that the “grain initiative opens the window of opportunity for further peace negations,” Zelenskyy said. “And I said ‘there is no trust to Russians who rape and shell and fire cruise missiles at Ukrainians.’”
He added, “First they have to free all of our territories and then we will see.”
Among the major challenges is the danger fighting posed to the giant Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is controlled by Russia. Guterres again called for a demilitarized zone to be established around it, an idea that has been rejected by Russia.
Shelling has endangered the plant and raised the chances of a nuclear accident, U.N. officials have warned. Ukraine has accused Russian forces of using the plant as a base for rocket attacks and of causing explosions on the grounds in false-flag operations. Russia accuses Ukraine of attacking the site with artillery.
Guterres acknowledged the litany of issues around the plant but did not attribute blame to either side for the attacks. “We must tell it like it is — any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” Guterres said, echoing his previous comments. He added that an agreement was urgently needed to reestablish the plant as a purely civilian area and ensure its safety.
But Zelenskyy made it clear that no agreement was possible unless Russia withdrew its forces from the half-square-mile plant, which has six reactors. And in Moscow, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused Ukrainian forces of preparing a “terrorist attack” involving the nuclear complex.
Guterres also spoke about a U.N. fact-finding mission announced this month into an explosion at a Russian prison camp that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war. At the news conference, Guterres announced that a Brazilian general, Carlos dos Santos Cruz, would lead this mission.
“To put it simply, a fact-finding mission must be free to find the facts,”Guterres said.
Each side has blamed the other — with Russian officials claiming that Ukrainians attacked the prison themselves, to deter defectors, and Ukrainian authorities rejecting the narrative as absurd and saying that the deaths were a premeditated atrocity committed by Russian forces from within the prison.