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Russian termination of Ukraine grain deal promises pain for millions, says UN

The last operational day is today after three extensions since July last year

After almost a year in operation, the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has allowed more than 30m tonnes to be exported from Ukraine’s three main ports, has been terminated by Russia, which says its demands to make its commodity exports easier have not been met

RUSSIA finally pulled the plug on the United Nations-led Black Sea corridor for the export of Ukrainian grain on Monday — a move that, according to the United Nations secretary general, “will strike a blow to people in need everywhere”.

The decision from Moscow to exit the pact was widely anticipated and signalled by months of Russian complaints about the deal.

The final decision to call time on an agreement that has ensured the safe passage of almost 33m tonnes of crop exports almost a year into its run comes against a backdrop of heightening uncertainty about global food supplies, predictably prompting outcry from critics of Russia.

UN secretary general António Guterres said he “deeply regretted” the fact that Russian president Vladimir Putin had apparently not heeded his interventions.

“Hundreds of millions of people face hunger. Consumers are confronting a global cost-of-living crisis — they will pay the price,” said Guterres, adding that a jump in wheat prices was already happening as a result of the deal collapsing. 

“Today’s decision by the Russian Federation will strike a blow to people in need everywhere. But it will not stop our efforts to facilitate the unimpeded access to global markets for food products and fertilisers from both Ukraine and the Russian Federation,” said Guterres.

Russia officially terminated the initiative early on Monday via a notification sent to the grain initiative’s Joint Co-ordination Centre in Istanbul. 

The move effectively means that Russia has withdrawn any guarantees for the safety of navigation.

“Without the participation of Russia, the Black Sea initiative ceases to function from July 18,” according to a statement by the Russian foreign ministry. “Only upon receipt of concrete results, and not promises and assurances, will Russia be ready to consider restoring the deal.” 

The grain deal — dubbed the Black Sea Grain Initiative — allowed Ukrainian food to be exported along with Russian ammonia. However, no ammonia has been exported and a blast earlier this year on the pipeline that runs to Ukraine is still out of action. 

At the same time, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Russia and the UN to enable the normalisation of Russian exports of agricultural products and fertilisers. 

But Russia has called the results of these agreements “disappointing” even as its wheat exports reach records, making it the largest supplier in the world.

The last ship carrying grain out of Ukraine under the Black Sea Grain Initiative was due to arrive in Türkiye later today.

The 1996-built, 43,775 dwt, Türkiye-flagged bulk carrier TQ Samsun (IMO: 9125566) was at Odesa port from June 30 and sailed on July 16 for Istanbul anchorage, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence vessel-tracking data.

The deal brokered by the UN and Türkiye in July in the past year was seen as a breakthrough, helping to alleviate rising food prices and staving off widespread hunger.

More than 30m tonnes of grains have been shipped through the safe corridor, with three extensions, since it became operational on August 1. 

However, Russia has made repeated threats to pull out of the agreement, citing grievances relating to its agricultural commodity exports, including ammonia, which is pumped through a pipeline to Ukraine for shipment. The deal has to be agreed by all sides.  

Guterres made a last-ditch attempt in the past week to persuade the Kremlin to keep the deal going on humanitarian grounds, but Russia has said that the shipments have mostly headed to high-income countries rather than to where they are needed most.

The foreign ministry said on Monday that, contrary to the declared humanitarian goals of the deal, the export of Ukrainian food was “almost immediately transferred to a purely commercial basis and, until the last moment, was directed to serving the selfish interests of Kiev and its Western curators”.

According to the Joint Co-ordination Centre, set up by the UN in Istanbul to oversee the corridor, a total of 32.8m tonnes of grain and foodstuffs have been exported from the three designated Ukrainian ports — OdesaChornomorsk and Yuzhnyi.

Ships made 1,003 voyages from the ports, including 35 that had been stranded since February 2022 when the military activity began.  

The Joint Co-ordination Centre has received 29 applications from vessels located in Turkish waters, but no new ships have been approved to participate since June 27, it said.  

As of this month, less than one ship inspection per day has been completed, with the average time for a completed inspection lengthening to four hours and 12 minutes (11 inspections) from two hours and 12 minutes in February (149 inspections).



While most shipowners have been shunning this trade owing to security concerns, others have been willing to operate on this trade route given the hefty fees on offer.  

Up to 51% of the shipments from Ukraine have been corn, followed by wheat at 27%, sunflower meal (6%), sunflower oil (5%), barley (4%), rapeseed (3%), and others (4%), according to the Joint Co-ordination Centre.

About 46% of the exports went to Asia, 40% to western Europe, 12% to Africa and 1% to Eastern Europe, its data showed.

Under the initiative, 90% of corn and 60% of wheat has been exported to high and upper-middle-income countries; while the rest has been exported to low and lower-middle-income countries.

Compared with the total exports from 2017-2021, the initiative has delivered the same proportion to low-income countries as Ukraine’s previous trading patterns, but a higher proportion to high or upper-middle-income countries, the Joint Co-ordination Centre said.  

As of this month, the UN World Food Programme procured 80% of this year’s purchases of wheat grain from Ukraine via the initiative, up from 50% in 2021 and 2022, it said, adding since the launch of the grain deal, a total of 725,167 tonnes has been shipped to help relieve hunger in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. 

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