The United Nations on Sunday awaited a response from Russia to renew a deal that would allow Ukraine to export its grain amid a wartime blockade, a necessity in helping to keep global food prices stable.
That Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, is a rare example of successful negotiations between Ukraine and Russia since the start of a full-scale invasion. The deal was originally struck a year ago, allowing Ukraine to restart exports of millions of tons of grain that had languished for months.
But Russia has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the deal, which has been renewed for only a short time. The last day of the most recent extension is Monday.
In an effort to address one of Russia's key demands before this latest deadline, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, sending a letter to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia last week with a proposal that would “remove obstacles affecting financial transactions” through Russian agricultural banks “and simultaneously enable the continued flow of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea,” according to a UN statement.
Two days later, Putin called the deal a “one-sided game,” again threatening to withdraw because of what he viewed as unfulfilled conditions. Tass, Russia's state news agency, reported. “We may suspend our participation in this agreement. And if everyone reaffirms that all the promises given to us will be fulfilled – let them fulfill these promises. And we will soon join this agreement. Again,” he said, according to Bag.
One cargo ship departed from the Ukrainian port of Odesa on Sunday, bound for the Netherlands. The last delivery before that is Thursday.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said Sunday in an interview with CBS's “Face the Nation” that it was unclear what Putin would decide to do.
“We are ready for any scenario, and we are working with Ukraine on that,” he said.
The invasion prompted the United States and European nations to tighten sanctions against Russia, effectively turning it into a pariah state. Some analysts argue that Moscow is trying to use the grain deal as leverage to soften these sanctions.
Russia has complained that while the agreement has allowed Ukrainian food exports to reach markets, Western sanctions have restricted sales of Russian agricultural products, and demanded that steps be taken to facilitate exports of its own grain and fertilizer. Other Kremlin demands include restoring an ammonia pipeline across Ukraine to facilitate exports, but Ukraine has refused to give approval.
The deal was first brokered to alleviate a global food crisis that was exacerbated when Russia effectively blockaded Ukrainian ports at the start of the invasion. Ukraine is a major exporter of grain and other food crops, and global wheat prices are soaring. Although Ukraine's allies began to take in more shipments by land, they had little choice but to strike a deal with Russia to defuse the crisis and allow Ukrainian farmers to continue producing.
Since the Black Sea Grain Initiative began, Ukraine has used it to export 32.8 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs, according to UN data, and the agreement has prevented a worsening of hunger crises in several countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Under the deal, Ukraine's corn and wheat were the main exports, with 90 percent of corn and 60 percent of wheat going to high- or middle-income countries. The volume sent to low-income countries is roughly the same as before the invasion, according to UN data.
But the volume of grain exported from Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea has slowed in recent weeks, according to UN data. The same thing happened weeks before the previous deal's expiration date, back in May.
Under the terms of the deal, the Ukrainian vessel has been granted safe passage to the port in Istanbul, where inspectors have inspected it. The empty ships have also been inspected in Istanbul en route to Ukrainian ports to verify they are not carrying weapons or other items prohibited under the agreement.
This is what happens in war:
Speaking to Russian state TV, Putin said in a clip released on Sunday that Ukraine's month-long counteroffensive – which has captured several miles of territory so far – was “unsuccessful,” and that Russian troops were holding out across the entire front. Putin added that Russia has even carried out its own strikes in some areas. On Sunday afternoon, Ukraine's deputy defense minister, Hanna Malyar, said in a Telegram post that Russian forces had carried out offensive operations near Kupiansk, a city in the Kharkiv region, and in parts of the Donetsk region.
In excerpts from the state TV interview, which aired Sunday evening in Russia, Putin also said that the recent decision by the United States to send cluster munitions to Ukraine showed the scale of the ammunition shortage Kyiv faces, adding that Russia could retaliate if these weapons were deployed. on the battlefield. Putin falsely claimed that Russia had not used cluster munitions in Ukraine despite dozens of cases documented by the United Nations, mostly in the early months of the war.
The Russian president's comments, released by the Kremlin on Sunday, raise the prospect of a much wider deployment of cluster munitions in the conflict, which would threaten to cover the battlefield with years of unexploded ordnance, posing a significant risk to civilians. .
Britain's defense minister, Ben Wallace, told The Sunday Times in London that he would step down from his post, possibly in the coming months, after four years in office. Britain has been one of Ukraine's strongest allies since the all-out Russian invasion began. Mr Wallace said last week that Ukraine should show more gratitude for the UK's military support, adding, “We are not Amazons,” a comment shunned by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.