U.N. in Urgent Talks to Keep Ukrainian Grain Flowing
With the endpoint near on a crucial deal that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments through a Russian naval blockade, the United Nations said it was racing to bridge differences to extend the agreement, which has helped alleviate global food shortages and limit price increases.
The United Nations is “doing everything possible” to ensure the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which it brokered with Turkey, Martin Griffiths, the global body’s humanitarian chief, told the Security Council on Friday, the eve of the deal’s expiration.
Russia and Ukraine have been at odds over how long to extend the deal, which is set to expire late Saturday. Moscow has said it would agree to an extension of only 60 days because its own food and fertilizer exports were being hampered by sanctions. Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations have pushed for a 120-day renewal, in line with the initial agreement in July and with a subsequent extension in November.
The deal allows ships carrying grain and fertilizer from Ukraine safe passage to Turkish waters, where they are inspected by a joint team of Turkish, U.N., Ukrainian and Russian officials.
Its signing was a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Ukraine and Russia since the war began last year, but Moscow has held the deal hostage at various points. In late October, the Kremlin abruptly suspended its participation in the agreement after an attack on its warships in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, but it rejoined a few days later.
At the time, President Vladimir V. Putin said, “Russia retains the right to leave these agreements if these guarantees from Ukraine are violated.”
On Friday, Mr. Putin’s isolation from the West deepened with the announcement by the International Criminal Court that it had accused him of war crimes and issued a warrant for his arrest. That drew a defiant response from the Kremlin, which vowed not to cooperate with it.
In a sign of the Kremlin’s determination to continue with business as usual, the Russian leader was scheduled to participate virtually on Saturday in ceremonies for the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a move that Ukraine and the international community have denounced as illegal. The seizure of the peninsula by Russian troops in 2014 was in many ways a precursor to Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
On Monday, Mr. Putin is scheduled to host China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, for the start of a state visit. The trip by Mr. Xi, whose government has not commented on the I.C.C. warrant, highlights how Russia has maintained relationships with powerful allies that have cushioned the effect of Western diplomatic isolation and sanctions.
American officials say that China has refrained from supplying Russia with military aid for use in Ukraine. President Biden has emphasized to Mr. Xi that any such move would have “serious consequences” for the U.S.-China relationship, Biden administration officials say.
Top U.S. military officials held a phone call on Friday with Ukrainian leaders including President Volodymyr Zelensky, who offered “an update on battlefield conditions and expressed appreciation for the continued provision of U.S. security assistance,” according to a White House summary of the call.
The Biden administration has also strongly endorsed an extension of the grain deal, which the United Nations says has enabled the export of more than 23 million tons of grain, stabilizing food prices and alleviating shortages.
“It saves lives,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council on Friday. “The world needs this grain. It must flow freely.”
Ukraine is a leading exporter of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower, but its shipments plummeted after the war began. Exports from Russia, another major supplier, fell as well.
Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, on Friday called Russia’s insistence on a shorter term for the deal “a manipulation for further blackmail and fomenting a global food crisis.”
Talks on extending the deal began Monday in Geneva. Agreement on the previous extension, in November, was reached with days to spare.
The grain travels through the Black Sea, where Russia’s powerful naval fleet runs up against three members of NATO — Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria — that share the coast. This week, an American surveillance drone was brought down in the sea after being struck by a Russian fighter jet, U.S. officials said. That was the first known physical contact between the Russian and American militaries since the war began.
In recent months, Russian warships in the Black Sea have fired cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets that are sometimes hundreds of miles away, hitting towns and cities and damaging the country’s energy infrastructure.