Russia-Ukraine War:The U.N. and Turkey work to restore the suspended grain deal.
Officials from the United Nations and Turkey were pushing on Sunday to bring Russia back into an agreement that allowed the export of grain from Ukrainian ports, as Western leaders urged Moscow to reconsider a move they warned would unleash dire consequences on a hungry planet.
The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, postponed his travel to an Arab League summit so he could instead “engage in intense contacts” over Russia’s decision on Saturday to withdraw from the deal, according to a statement from his office. And Turkey said its defense minister was in talks with his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts in an effort to “resume the activities of the grain initiative,” which the Turkish government helped broker.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, urged Russia to reverse its decision, which came after Moscow accused Ukraine of carrying out attacks against its ships and infrastructure in the Black Sea, through which the grain and other agricultural products transit.
“Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea deal puts at risks the main export route of much needed grain and fertilizers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine,” Mr. Borrell tweeted on Sunday.
The move by Russia threatened to end a rare example of wartime coordination that has enabled more than 9.5 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs to be exported from Ukraine as of Oct. 24, according to the United Nations office overseeing its implementation. It said the United Nations had convened all the delegations on Sunday, at which point Russia had confirmed that its participation in the initiative was suspended but that it would continue a dialogue with the United Nations and Turkey “on pressing issues.”
If shipments are not resumed, experts warned, global food prices could rise further, creating more economic pain for nations already struggling with rising inflation and energy prices.
Mr. Guterres’ office said that one of his objectives was “removing the remaining obstacles to the exports of Russian food and fertilizer.” That appeared to be an acknowledgment of Moscow’s complaints that it has struggled to export agricultural products under the terms of the deal because Western sanctions have scared ports, insurers, banks and other businesses away from doing business with Russia. For weeks, Russian officials have indicated that they might not extend the deal, which had been set to expire in mid-November.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Andrey Rudenko, said on Sunday that further decisions about the grain deal will be taken only after the “circumstances” of the recent attack are clarified and a U.N. Security Council meeting is held, the state-run news agency Tass reported.
“We have announced the suspension of our participation in the deal, not the withdrawal, but suspension,” he said, according to Tass.
With President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces struggling in eastern and southern Ukraine, analysts say that the Russian leader could be using the grain deal partly as a tool of warfare to overcome his army’s shortcomings and maintain pressure on Ukraine’s Western allies.
Moscow also has argued that much of the grain was being shipped to wealthy countries, not those that needed it the most. U.N. officials have said that many of the ships carried grain purchased under commercial contracts, which plays a role in stabilizing the market, even if it does not go directly to nations facing food shortages.
“Putin needs leverage as things go south for him on the battlefields in Ukraine, so the threat of global food crisis needs to be put back in the Russian toolbox of coercion and blackmail,” tweeted Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
But Russia’s decision, he added, threatened to antagonize two important allies: Saudi Arabia, which has worried that a worsening global food crisis could fuel instability in the Middle East, and Turkey, which has emerged as an influential broker in the war.
Turkey, which controls the strategic straits where ships enter and leave the Black Sea, has been the key international player in the grain deal, providing the site where exports from Ukraine were inspected by a joint command including officials from Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations.