UN optimistic on Ukraine grain deal; Russia has reservations

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A senior U.N. official said Wednesday he is “relatively optimistic” the deal for returning Ukrainian grain and Russian grain and fertilizer to world markets will be extended beyond mid-November, but Russia’s U.N. ambassador said Moscow needs to see movement on its own exports first.

The deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July has led to more than 8.5 million metric tons of foodstuffs being shipped from three Black Sea ports in Ukraine.

But Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that “Russia needs to see the export of its grain and fertilizers in the world market, which has never happened since the beginning of the deal.”

The deal has a 120-day limit. U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, who has focused on the Ukraine side of the deal, and senior U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan, who has focused on the Russian side, were in Moscow earlier this month for talks with Russian officials including on an extension.

“We are keen to see that renewed promptly, now,” Griffiths said in response to a question. “It’s important for the market. It’s important for just continuity. And I’m still relatively optimistic that we’re going to get that. We’re working hard.”

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine cut off shipments of grain and fertilizer from the two key world suppliers, causing food shortages and rising prices especially in developing countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres first raised the critical need to restart the supply of Ukraine’s agricultural production and Russia’s grain and fertilizer to world markets in late April during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

Guterres then proposed the deal, pointing to fear that the war could further worsen hunger for up to 181 million people, particularly in poorer developing countries.

On the Ukraine side, the Joint Coordination Center overseeing the logistics and inspection of ships said Monday that there was a backlog — 113 ships registered for inspection and a further 60 vessels waiting to take on cargo.

It noted the next Ukrainian harvest is approaching and silos will soon be full again in the three ports — Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny. The center said it has increased its inspection teams and is discussing ways to improve its operation.

Ukraine’s president on Saturday accused Russia of artificially creating a line of some 150 ships to slow down Ukrainian shipments.

Nebenzia said hurdles that need to be overcome for Russian grain and fertilizer to reach global markets remain the same as in July: getting insurance for vessels, conducting financial transactions, finding ports of call for Russian ships and freeing up fertilizer on ships detained at European ports that “we committed to distribute free of charge to countries in need.”

The fertilizer, he said, is slowly being “destroyed because these kinds of fertilizers cannot be kept indefinitely.”

“These are the main things which were there on the agenda a few months ago, and they still are the same,” Nebenzia said. “We recognize that the secretary-general and his team are trying to do their best to resolve those issues. But unfortunately, it’s not just on them that it depends upon.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.