Inspections of ships carrying Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea resumed on Wednesday under a UN-brokered deal, but Kyiv faces a struggle to secure an extension of the agreement, as well as a widening import ban in eastern Europe, Reuters reports.
Bulgaria became the fourth European Union member state in the region to block Ukrainian grain imports, hoping to protect local farmers following an influx of cheaper supplies since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 14 months ago.
But there was some relief for Kyiv as Romania, a key trade partner, stopped short of banning imports even as it tightened controls on the transit of Ukrainian grain.
Kyiv and its allies blamed the latest halt to ship inspections in the Bosphorus this week on Moscow, which, in turn, blamed Ukraine and the United Nations.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, wrote on Facebook that “ship inspections are being resumed, despite the RF’s (Russian Federation’s) attempts to disrupt the agreement”.
The Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul that oversees operations said “inspections are already at work”.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, reached with UN and Turkish mediation last July, unblocked three Ukrainian Black Sea ports five months after Russia’s invasion.
It was designed to alleviate a global food crisis as well as to support Ukraine, whose economy relies heavily on agricultural exports.
Russia says it has committed to the initiative only until 18 May, and complains that a separate deal meant to ease its own agricultural and fertiliser exports – which are not covered by Western sanctions against Moscow – has not been upheld.
Ukrainian Agriculture Minister, Mykola Solsky, told reporters talks were taking place to get the deal extended next month. But, making clear no immediate breakthrough is expected, Solsky said: “Let’s give them time.”
He gave no details of the talks. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, is due to discuss the grain export deal with UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres in New York next week.
Kyiv is also trying to secure agreement from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to lift bans on imports of Ukrainian grain and food products that were announced in the last few days.
The countries are transit routes for Ukrainian grain that could not be exported by sea because of Russia’s invasion, and bottlenecks have built up, reducing prices and sales by local farmers and putting political pressure on governments.
The EU is preparing €100 million ($109.32 million) in compensation for farmers in countries bordering Ukraine, and plans to introduce restrictions on imports of Ukrainian grains.
The EU executive has criticised member states for taking individual steps but Bulgaria’s caretaker Prime Minister, Galab Donev, was quoted by Bulgaria Radio as saying Sofia had no option but to act.
“Over the past year, a significant amount of food has remained in the country and disrupted food chains,” he was quoted as saying. “We are forced to adopt this national measure because the European authorities are still considering an adequate measure.”
Poland went further than others by also prohibiting the transit of Ukrainian grain through its territory, but agreed on Tuesday to lift the transit ban after talks with Kyiv.
Transit of Ukrainian grain will resume at midnight on Thursday night, Poland’s development ministry was cited as saying, by state-run news agency, PAP, on Wednesday.
Poland and Romania will now monitor and seal Ukrainian grain cargoes that cross its territory in transit, a measure that is insufficient to satisfy all Ukrainian farmers.
“We do not know what the process will be, how it will work and what will work,” Volodymyr Bondaruk, a farmer in western Ukraine, told Reuters.
“This will enable large and medium agricultural holdings to sell their products, but it will be very difficult for small farmers.”