Black sea grain deal

The final vessel is scheduled to leave a Ukrainian port on Wednesday as part of an agreement facilitating the secure export of Ukraine’s grain via the Black Sea, according to a spokesperson from the United Nations (UN).

This development comes just a day before Russia threatens to withdraw from the pact due to challenges faced in exporting its own grain and fertilizer.

Last year in July, the UN and Turkey brokered the Black Sea deal for an initial period of 120 days. The objective was to address a global food crisis worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a prominent grain exporter.

In November, Moscow agreed to extend the pact for an additional 120 days. However, in March, Russia revised the extension to 60 days, with the deadline set for May 18, unless its demands concerning agricultural exports were met.

To secure Russia’s consent for Black Sea grain exports, the UN had agreed to assist Moscow with its agricultural shipments for a three-year duration.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated on Tuesday that there were still unresolved issues regarding their part of the agreement, and a decision would need to be made, as reported by Russian media.

Last week, high-ranking officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN met in Istanbul to discuss the Black Sea pact. UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric mentioned on Tuesday that discussions were ongoing at various levels and that they were currently in a sensitive phase.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed optimism last week, suggesting that the deal could be extended for at least two more months.

While Western sanctions imposed after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine do not apply to Russian food and fertilizer exports, Moscow claims that restrictions on payments, logistics, and insurance have created obstacles for their shipments.

The United States dismissed Russia’s grievances, with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield stating last week that grain and fertilizer exports were being conducted at similar, if not higher, levels compared to before the full-scale invasion.

The Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in Istanbul, comprising officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN, oversees the implementation of the Black Sea export deal. They are responsible for authorizing and inspecting ships. Since May 4, no new vessels have received authorization from the JCC.

Authorized ships undergo inspections near Turkey by JCC officials before proceeding to a Ukrainian Black Sea port through a maritime humanitarian corridor to load their cargo. Afterward, they return to Turkish waters for a final inspection.

As per the UN spokesperson, there is only one ship left in a Ukrainian port, scheduled to depart on Wednesday and transit the maritime corridor with its cargo. Another vessel was en route back to Turkey on Tuesday, while five more ships were awaiting outbound inspections in Turkish waters.

In a letter obtained by Reuters last month, Russia informed its JCC counterparts that it would not approve any new vessels for participation in the Black Sea deal unless the transits were completed by May 18, which is the expected date of closure. This decision aims to avoid commercial losses and mitigate potential safety risks after May 18.

Considering Russia’s warning, it seems unlikely that ship owners or insurance companies would be willing to continue transporting Ukrainian grain exports if Russia does not agree to an extension of the deal and decides to withdraw.

During a brief suspension of Russia’s participation, the UN, Turkey, and Ukraine managed to sustain the Black Sea agreement in October.

According to the United Nations, around 30 million metric tonnes of grain and foodstuffs have been exported from Ukraine under the Black Sea deal, including nearly 600,000 metric tonnes of grain transported in World Food Programme vessels for humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen.


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