Russia said, on Thursday, that a landmark deal to ensure the safe export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports was only being “half-implemented”, raising doubts about whether it would allow an extension of the deal that is due to expire next week, Reuters reports.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Turkiye last July, aimed to prevent a global food crisis by allowing Ukrainian grain blockaded by Russia’s invasion to be safely exported from three Ukrainian ports.
The deal was extended for 120 days in November and will renew on 18 March, if no party objects. However, Moscow has already signalled it will only agree to an extension if restrictions affecting its own exports are lifted.
Russia’s agricultural exports have not been explicitly targeted by the West, but Moscow says sanctions on its payments, logistics and insurance industries are a barrier to it being able to export its own grains and fertilisers.
“There are still a lot of questions about the final recipients, questions about where most of the grain is going. And, of course, questions about the second part of the agreements are well known to all,” Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia has complained before that Ukrainian grain exported under the deal is going to wealthy countries. The “second part” refers to a memorandum of understanding with the UN which facilitates Russian food and fertiliser exports.
Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, told a news conference on Thursday that what he called the “two parts” of the deal – ensuring safe exports of Ukrainian grain and removing barriers to Russian exports – were “inextricably linked”.
“The first part is being implemented, and we are fulfilling all our obligations in this regard together with our Turkish colleagues,” Lavrov said.
“The second part is not being implemented at all.”
“If we’re talking about a deal, it’s a package deal. You can only extend what is already being implemented, and if the package is half-implemented, then the issue of extension becomes quite complicated,” Lavrov said.
Top UN trade official, Rebeca Grynspan, is set to discuss the deal with senior Russian officials in Geneva next week.
Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, held talks in Kyiv on Wednesday on extending the deal, which Guterres said was of “critical importance”.
There are currently no plans for direct talks between Guterres and Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said.
Ukraine has, so far, exported more than 23 million tonnes of mainly corn and wheat under the deal, according to the United Nations. The top primary destinations for shipments have been China, Spain, Turkiye, Italy and the Netherlands.
“Exports of Ukrainian – as well as Russian – food and fertilisers are essential to global food security and food prices,” Guterres told reporters on Wednesday.