Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin leaves after talks on Black Sea Grain Initiative at the United Nations in Geneva on March 13, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)
ANKARA/UNITED NATIONS – A deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain was renewed on Saturday for at least 60 days – half the intended period – after Russia warned any further extension beyond mid-May would depend on the removal of some Western sanctions.
The pact was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Türkiye in July and renewed for a further 120 days in November. The aim was to combat a global food crisis that was fueled in part by Russia's Feb. 24, 2022 special military operation in Ukraine and Black Sea blockade.
The deal had been set to expire on Saturday.
Russia and Ukraine are key global suppliers of food commodities and Russia is also a top exporter of fertilizer
The United Nations and Türkiye said on Saturday that the deal had been extended, but did not specify for how long. Ukraine said it had been extended for 120 days. But Russia's cooperation is needed and Moscow only agreed to renew the pact for 60 days.
"The Black Sea Grain Initiative, alongside the Memorandum of Understanding on promoting Russian food products and fertilizers to the world markets, are critical for global food security, especially for developing countries," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
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Russia and Ukraine are key global suppliers of food commodities and Russia is also a top exporter of fertilizer.
Ukraine's Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said Ukraine had supplied nearly 500,000 tonnes of wheat for UN aid programs, and insisted on Saturday that the Black Sea export pact had been extended for 120 days and was an opportunity to keep helping those in need and "save the world from hunger."
To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports last year, a three-year deal was also struck in July in which the United Nations agreed to help Russia with its food and fertilizer exports.
Commercial vessels including vessels which are part of Black Sea grain deal wait to pass the Bosphorus strait off the shores of Yenikapi in Istanbul
Western powers have imposed tough sanctions on Russia for its special military operation in Ukraine. While its food and fertilizer exports are not sanctioned, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance industries are a barrier to shipments.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Friday that the European Union, the United States and Britain now "have two months to exempt from their sanctions the entire chain of operations which accompany the Russian agricultural sector," if they want the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal to continue.
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US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded that Washington had "gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate the clear carve-outs for food and fertilizers to governments and to the private sector."
In a letter to UN officials dated March 16, and posted on Twitter by a Russian diplomat on Saturday, Nebenzia spelled out what Moscow wanted resolved – allowing the Russian Agricultural Bank to return to the SWIFT banking system and allowing the supply to Russia of agricultural machinery and spare parts.
Nebenzia also said restrictions need to be lifted on insurance and access to ports for Russian ships and cargo, a pipeline that delivers Russian ammonia to a Ukrainian Black Sea port needs to be restarted, and the accounts and financial activities of Russian fertilizer companies should be unblocked.
The United Nations has said that while progress has been made on facilitating Russian agricultural exports, there were still impediments, particularly in relation to payment systems.
READ MORE: UN, Ukraine call for extension of Black Sea Grain Initiative
Dujarric said on Saturday that the United Nations was strongly committed to implementing both the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal and the pact with Moscow and urged "all sides to redouble their efforts to implement them fully."
Ukraine has so far exported nearly 25 million tonnes of mainly corn and wheat under the deal, according to the United Nations.