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West, Russia Spar Over Imperiled Black Sea Grain Deal


FILE - Vessels await inspection under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, in the southern anchorage of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, Dec. 11, 2022.

Latest developments

  • Estonian Prime Minister supports Ukraine's bid to join NATO, EU.
  • China states it respects the sovereignty of former Soviet states.
  • Letter containing unknown substance was sent to the French embassy in Moscow, the TASS news agency said on Monday, citing law enforcement.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed a "way forward" of the Black Sea Grain Initiative to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Guterres outlined his proposal in a letter to the Russian president on "the improvement, extension and expansion" of a grain deal that would allow the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain, a U.N. spokesperson said on Monday after Guterres and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in New York.

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Monday that an agreement between Moscow and the United Nations on Russia's grain and fertilizer exports is not being fulfilled and there are "lots of details" to be discussed by Lavrov and Guterres.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov looks on durind a meeting of the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, April 24, 2023.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov looks on durind a meeting of the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, April 24, 2023.

The Kremlin has indicated it will not allow the deal—brokered by the U.N. and Turkey last year—to continue beyond May 18 unless Russia's terms on its own grain and fertilizer exports are met.

The European Union and Japan have pushed back against a U.S. proposal for G-7 countries to ban all exports to Russia, the Financial Times reported Monday.

Lavrov did not answer questions on his way in or out of the 90-minute meeting with Guterres. "Don't shout at me," he told reporters.

During the Security Council meeting Monday, Guterres said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is "causing massive suffering and devastation to Ukraine and its people" and contributing to "global economic dislocation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic."

"Tensions between major powers are at a historic high. So are the risks of conflict, through misadventure or miscalculation," he remarked.

Sitting next to the U.N. chief, Lavrov warned the council that the world is now in a more dangerous situation than even during the Cold War. "As during the Cold War, we have reached the dangerous, possibly even more dangerous, threshold," Lavrov said during the session on “Maintenance of International Peace and Security” that he was chairing.

Russia holds the monthly rotating presidency of the 15-member body for April.

Estonia-Ukraine NATO, EU membership

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on Monday expressed support for Ukraine's petition for membership into NATO and the EU "as soon as conditions allow." Kallas made these comments during her meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the northwestern Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr and signed a joint declaration with the Ukrainian president condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy thanked the Estonian prime minister. "I am grateful to Ms. Prime Minister and the entire Estonian people for their clear and unwavering support of our movement to the European Union and NATO—the relevant points on the Alliance are included in the declaration," he said.

At a European Union meeting Monday in Luxemburg, Finland pressed EU members to accelerate the acquisition of ammunition for Ukraine.

Responding to Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed confidence the EU Commission will finalize the remaining details on the ammunition acquisition. He said that despite some disagreements among the EU members, he was sure that "everybody will understand we are in a situation of extreme urgency."

After Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba addressed the meeting by video, Borrell said the best way to stop the war is for Russia to stop fighting and withdraw from Ukrainian territory.

“Until then, we will continue to ensure Ukraine has the capacity to defend itself from the Russian aggression,” Borrell said.

Kuleba expressed frustration last week that the agreement reached by EU members in March to jointly buy artillery ammunition for Ukraine and boost European ammunition production had not yet been implemented.

China on Ukraine sovereignty

In other news, China announced Monday that it “respects former Soviet countries as sovereign states [and] that common sense dictates Ukraine is sovereign because it’s a member of the United Nations.” The statement by China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, came as a response to comments by the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye last Friday. Lu said that Crimea was historically part of Russia, offered to Ukraine by former Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.

"These ex-USSR countries don't have actual status in international law because there is no international agreement to materialize their sovereign status," Lu said in a French TV interview, causing consternation among EU member states and Ukraine.

Beijing has distanced itself from Lu’s comments. A statement by the Chinese embassy in Paris said the ambassador’s comments on Ukraine "were not a political declaration but an expression of his personal views.”

Suspicious letters

Meanwhile, a letter containing an unknown substance was sent to the French Embassy in Moscow on Monday, the TASS news agency said on Monday, citing law enforcement.

"Employees of the French Embassy received a letter with an unknown substance inside on Monday evening. Law enforcers are currently working at the scene," TASS quoted a source as saying.

The French foreign ministry did not comment on the report.

Earlier in April, Russian media reported that Finland's embassy in Moscow received three suspicious letters, one of which contained an unknown powder, Reuters reports.

Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.