UN efforts to save Black Sea grain deal to continue in coming days
By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. aid chief said on Monday efforts will continue in coming days to extend a deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain, a pact Russia has threatened to quit on May 18 over obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports.
The final two ships are due to leave Ukrainian ports on Tuesday under the Black Sea deal, said a U.N. spokesperson.
"Continuation of the Black Sea Initiative is critically important," Martin Griffiths told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine. "We will continue to call on all to meet their responsibilities as the world watches us very closely."
The U.N. and Turkey brokered the Black Sea agreement in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis that has been aggravated by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, one of the world's leading grain exporters. At the same time, the U.N. agreed to help Moscow facilitate its own agricultural shipments.
Griffiths met in Istanbul last week with senior officials from Russia, Ukraine and Turkey but there was no Russian agreement to extend the Black Sea deal.
"These efforts will continue and focus in coming days," Griffiths said on Monday.
A Ukrainian foreign ministry official said on Monday that no additional talks were planned this week.
Russia has issued a list of demands regarding its own agricultural exports that it wants met before it agrees to an extension of the deal.
"It is disgusting that Russia still pretends to be on the losing side of the deal," Ukraine's U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the Security Council.
Russia's demands include restarting a pipeline that delivers Russian ammonia to a Ukrainian Black Sea port, which the United Nations has been pushing for.
"The (Black Sea) Initiative refers to the export of ammonia, but this has not yet been realized," Griffiths said.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Ukrainian officials at a Joint Coordincation Center (JCC) in Istanbul - which oversees implementation of the deal - of refusing to discuss restarting the ammonia pipeline. Ukraine's Restoration Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While Russian exports of food and fertilizer are not subject to Western sanctions imposed following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have amounted to a barrier to shipments.
"While Russia keeps Ukrainian grain supplies from feeding the hungry, Russia is successfully exporting its own bumper crop of grain," Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Wood said. "Russia must stop holding global food security hostage to its cynical power plays and profit-taking."
Nebenzia again complained that not enough poor countries were benefiting from the Black Sea grain deal. Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to deliver Russian grain and fertilizers free of charge to African countries.
Some 30 million metric tonnes of grain and foodstuffs has been exported from Ukraine under the deal, including nearly 600,000 metric tonnes of grain for World Food Programme aid operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen. The U.N. has also said the deal helped bring down global prices.
"Food exported under the Black Sea Initiative – and food and fertilizer exports from the Russian Federation – continue to make a crucial contribution to food security at a global level," Griffiths said.
Ukraine had been putting forward daily a list of ships to be authorized by the JCC. Once approved, ships are inspected by JCC officials near Turkey before traveling to a Ukrainian Black Sea port via a maritime humanitarian corridor to collect their cargo and return to Turkish waters for a final inspection.
Along with the final two ships due to depart Ukrainian ports on Tuesday, there are another two vessels in transit back to Turkey and another eight ships waiting for outbound inspection near Turkey. No new ships have been authorized since May 4.
In an excerpt of a letter seen by Reuters last month, Russia told its JCC counterparts it will not approve any new vessels to take part in the Black Sea deal unless the transits will be done by May 18 - "the expected date of ... closure."
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Mark Potter)