United Nations

UN chief delays travel to try to bring Russia back into Black Sea grain deal

Reuters
UN chief delays travel to try to bring Russia back into Black Sea grain deal

UN CHIEF. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news conference at UN headquarters on September 18, 2019 in New York City. Guterres has made the fight against the climate crisis one of his top priorities this year for the UN, which hosts world leaders next week for the UN General Assembly.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

Moscow halted its role in the Black Sea deal, effectively cutting shipments from Ukraine, one of the world's top grain exporters

The head of the United Nations said he was “deeply concerned” by Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in a UN-brokered grain deal and delayed a foreign visit to try to revive the agreement, which aims to ease a global food crisis.

Moscow halted its role in the Black Sea deal on Saturday, October 29, effectively cutting shipments from Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain exporters. It said it was responding to what it called a major Ukrainian drone attack earlier in the day on its fleet near the port of Sevastopol in Russian-annexed Crimea.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was engaging in “intense contacts aiming at the end of the Russian suspension of its participation,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said. Guterres had delayed his departure for the Arab League Summit in Algiers for a day to focus on the issue, Dujarric said.

NATO said Ukraine’s grain exports had helped reduce food prices the world over.

“We call on Russia to reconsider its decision and renew the deal urgently, enabling food to reach those who need it most,” spokesperson Oana Lungescu said.

The European Union also urged Moscow to reverse course.

“Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea deal puts at risk the main export route of much needed grain and fertilizers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Minister Hulusi Akar was in talks with Russian and Ukrainian counterparts to resume the grains deal, and had asked parties to avoid any “provocation.”

On Saturday, US President Joe Biden called Russia’s move “purely outrageous,” saying it would increase starvation, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of weaponizing food.

On Sunday, October 30, Russia’s ambassador to Washington snapped back, saying the US response was “outrageous” and made false assertions about Moscow’s move.

Russia’s defense ministry said Ukraine attacked the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol with 16 drones early on Saturday, and that British navy “specialists” had helped coordinate what it called a terrorist attack. Britain denied the claim.

Ukraine has neither denied nor confirmed it was behind the attack while Ukrainian military suggested that Russians themselves may have been responsible for the explosions.

‘Hunger games’

Russia said it had repelled the attack but that the ships targeted were involved in ensuring the grain corridor out of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow used the explosions 220 kilometers away from the grain corridor as a “false pretext” for a long-intended move.

“Russia took the decision to resume its hunger games long ago and now tries to justify it,” Kuleba said on Twitter, without offering any evidence.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff accused Russia on Saturday of inventing attacks on its own facilities.

Kyiv often accuses Russia of using the Black Sea Fleet to fire cruise missiles at Ukrainian civilian targets, a charge supported by some military analysts, who say that makes the fleet a legitimate military target.

Moscow also accused British navy personnel of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month, a claim that London and Paris both said was false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.

Russia’s departure from the grain deal marks a new development in an eight-month war that began with Russia’s invasion in February and that has recently been dominated by a Ukrainian counteroffensive and Russian drone and missile attacks that have destroyed more than 30% of Ukraine’s generating capacity and hit populated areas.

Each side has accused the other of being prepared to detonate radioactive bombs.

Zelenskiy called for a strong response from the United Nations and Group of 20 (G20) major economies to what he called Russia’s nonsensical move on the grain deal.

“This is a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa, for Asia,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Saturday, adding that Russia should be kicked out of the G20.

Ships blocked

The grain deal had restarted shipments from Ukraine, allowing sales on world markets, targeting the pre-war level of five million metric tonnes exported from Ukraine each month.

More than nine million tonnes of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soy have been exported under the July 22 deal.

But ahead of its November 19 expiry, Russia had repeatedly said that there were serious problems with it. Ukraine complained Moscow had blocked almost 200 ships from picking up grain cargoes.

When the agreement was signed, the UN World Food Programme said some 47 million people were suffering “acute hunger” as the war halted Ukrainian shipments, causing global food shortages and sending prices soaring.

The deal ensured safe passage in and out of Odesa and two other Ukrainian ports in what an official called a “de facto ceasefire” for the ships and facilities covered.

Russia told Guterres on Saturday in a letter, seen by Reuters, that it was suspending the deal for an “indefinite term” because it could not “guarantee safety of civilian ships” traveling under the pact.

Moscow asked the UN Security Council to meet on Monday to discuss the Sevastopol attack, Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter.

More than 10 outbound and inbound vessels waited to enter the humanitarian corridor on Saturday and there was no agreement for the movement of vessels on Sunday, Amir Abdulla, the UN coordinator for the deal, said on Saturday. – Rappler.com

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