UN to keep pushing for extension of food and fertilizer exports from Russia and Ukraine

Jul 7, 2023, 3:48 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Top U.N. officials vowed Friday to keep working for an extension of the deal that allows food and fertilizer exports from Russia and Ukraine despite their war, pushing back at Moscow’s pessimism about a renewal before the July 17 expiration.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged both countries to make global food security a priority and “help ensure that these products can reach global markets smoothly, efficiently and at scale,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. “Together, the agreements are contributing to sustained reductions in global food prices, which are now more than 23% below the record highs reached in March last year.”

Turkey and the U.N. brokered a breakthrough accord with the warring sides last July, which has enabled Ukraine to ship over 32 million tons of grain from Black Sea ports to global markets.

Moscow, however, complains that the separate U.N.-Russia memorandum on facilitating shipments of Russian food and fertilizer still faces serious obstacles.

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said Friday that the United Nations has heard repeated statements from Russia “saying that there’s been no advantage to them and time’s up.” But as the secretary-general made clear, “this doesn’t deter us from doing everything we can to work for a deal,” he said.

On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “Unfortunately, at the moment there are no particular grounds for extending the deal.” But he also said that “there is still time for the West to fulfill those parts of the deal that concern Russia.”

Griffiths said U.N. trade chief Rebeca Grynspan, who has been in charge of the Russian side of the deal, “is very keen” to sit down with officials in Moscow next week. Griffitsh hopes to meet with the parties to the Black Sea Grain Initiative — Ukraine, Russia and Turkey — in Istanbul “if that’s possible next week.”

Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food products that developing nations depend on. Russia is also a major supplier of ammonia, a key ingredient of fertilizer.

Russia has faced difficulties in arranging shipping, insurance and banking transactions because of sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union after its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow is also seeking the reopening of the ammonia pipeline from Togliatti on the Volga River in western Russia to the Black Sea port of Odesa in Ukraine.

Griffiths said Grynspan and her team have made “very significant progress” in removing obstacles to Russian grain and fertilizer exports. But he said the ammonia pipeline is damaged in three places in a very active war zone.

The U.N. has offered to send experts to assess the damage, but agreement between Russia and Ukraine is needed to ensure their safe passage, he said. Even if repairs are made, he added, “we would then have to have an arrangement to protect that pipeline from the war.”

Griffiths said Grynspan’s team has made “some progress” in addressing restrictions on the operation of the sanctioned Russian Agricultural Bank, which Moscow wants lifted. He didn’t elaborate, but said removal of impediments Grynspan is trying to negotiate depends on cooperation especially from the United States and European countries.

Griffiths stressed that the grain deal renewal is a single package, saying that “it’s very important that everyone understands that we want both to work to a maximum degree.”

“And in the absence of a Black Sea initiative, I don’t think that the level of cooperation is going to remain,” he added.

The Black Sea Initiative has been extended three times, and if it isn’t extended once more, Ukraine’s upcoming harvest will sit in silos and world food prices “will spike again — and that has terrible consequences,” Griffiths said.

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