Daily Briefing: War in Ukraine: Russia Bombards Frontline Areas in Southern Ukraine
GENEVA — Russia on Monday said it did not object to extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative by 60 days, a measure that would allow Ukraine to continue shipping its grain past a Russian blockade to world markets. But, Moscow added, any further extensions would depend on whether restrictions on Russian agricultural exports are eased.
The Black Sea grain deal has been a rare example of cooperation between the warring countries and is set to expire on Saturday. The agreement, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, was earlier renewed in November three days before its previous expiration date.
Russian leaders had indicated that they were not satisfied with the deal ahead of the expiration date. But Sergei Vershinin, a deputy foreign minister, disclosed Russia’s position on Monday after “comprehensive and frank” talks in Geneva with senior U.N. officials eager to keep the agreement alive.
“Our further stance will be determined upon the tangible progress on normalization of our agricultural exports, not in words, but in deeds,” Mr. Vershinin said in a statement released after the talks concluded.
The U.N. said in a statement released hours later that it took note of Russia’s announcement but did not comment directly on the possibility of a 60-day extension. Secretary General António Guterres, the U.N. said, would do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the grain deal and ensure its continuity.
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said on Twitter that Russia’s stance would contradict the initial agreement that any extension would last a minimum of 120 days.
The U.N. has reported that the grain initiative, brokered in July and then extended in November, has allowed more than 23 million tons of grain to reach world markets. The deal helped to stabilize — and then lower — global food prices that had soared after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
The agreement also provided for unobstructed exports of agricultural products and fertilizers to world markets, a critical step toward preventing a calamitous decline in global food production at a time when climate disasters are aggravating shortages that are causing millions of people to live in acute hunger.
Mr. Vershinin, airing the Kremlin’s complaints, said that while Ukraine’s food exports were running smoothly, Western sanctions had compromised Russian agricultural exports. The exemptions to those sanctions announced by the United States, Britain and the European Union, he said, were “essentially inactive.”
Russia has pushed for months to resume exporting ammonia through a pipeline across Ukraine, to the Black Sea port of Odessa. But Kyiv, in exchange for its consent to that proposal, has countered with a prisoner-of-war swap.
In the meantime, despite Western sanctions exemptions for their agricultural goods, Russian companies said they have run into problems of over-compliance by Western banks, insurance and shipping companies that have continued to refuse to work with them.