As the clock ticked toward a possible expiration of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on Saturday, there were calls at the United Nations on Friday for it to be fully extended, as Russia complained that it was not beneficial enough.
“Right now, the U.N., under Secretary-General [Antonio] Guterres’ leadership, is doing everything possible to make sure that the Black Sea Grain Initiative can continue. We continue to engage closely with all parties,” U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told a U.N. Security Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.
Since it was signed July 22 in Istanbul, the initiative has facilitated the safe export of nearly 25 million metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs from three Black Sea ports in Ukraine to global markets. A corresponding Memorandum of Understanding between Russia and the United Nations has made inroads in easing concerns of anxious banks, insurers, shippers and other private-sector actors about doing business with Russia.
“As a result, markets have been calmed and global food prices have continued to fall,” Griffiths said. He spoke by video from Geneva, where he and U.N. trade chief Rebeca Grynspan met earlier this week with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin.
Griffiths told council members it is “vital” for global food security that both agreements continue and are fully implemented.
That would entail a four-month extension Saturday, but Russia has said it is not benefiting enough from the deal and will agree to only a 60-day renewal. Turkey, which helped broker the deal, and Ukraine both want the full 120 days.
“The efforts of the secretary-general have not generated results, and we cannot accept that, either,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council.
He said that the deal was not adversely affecting Russia’s economy but rather it was hurting the developing world, which it is intended to help, by not sending enough grain. He also called it “complete lies” that Russia’s military action had caused any kind of global food crisis.
Moscow has repeatedly said its fertilizer and food products are under Western sanctions. They are not, but many companies are fearful of doing business with Russian companies and inadvertently running afoul of Western measures.
“And when it comes to sanctions, we have gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate the clear carve-outs for food and fertilizer to governments and to the private sector. Simply put, sanctions are not the issue,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, adding that the grain “must flow freely.”
Ukraine’s envoy said that despite nearly 50,000 square kilometers of his country’s agricultural land not being suitable for use because of landmine contamination or active hostilities, the country’s farmers had still managed to export nearly 25 million metric tons of food since August 1.
“The Black Sea Grain Initiative should be renewed after it expires on March 18 for at least 120 days, as it is foreseen, before an unlimited period,” U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya of Ukraine said. “Its coverage should be extended to Ukrainian ports in the Mykolaiv region.”
Of the Security Council’s 15 members, 14 expressed a need for the deal to continue, with only Russia withholding its full support.