Despite renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on May 17, exports of grain and food from Ukraine have slowed to their lowest levels since they resumed last August under the deal, while Russian officials repeat complaints that Moscow is not benefiting enough from the initiative.
The Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Center (JCC) that oversees the implementation of the deal said Friday that only two of the three Ukrainian ports authorized to receive and send ships are working, and no new vessels have been registered to participate in the initiative in nearly a month.
Earlier this month, Russia had threatened to withdraw from the grain deal, which has facilitated the export of more than 30 million metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs from Ukraine in the past 10 months, helping to lower global food prices.
A parallel Memorandum of Understanding between Russia and the United Nations has made inroads in easing concerns of anxious banks, insurers, shippers and other private sector actors about doing business with Russia.
Moscow agreed on May 17 — just hours before the deal would have lapsed — to renew it for another 60 days. However, on Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin again said the deal is not working.
"Not only is the Russian-U.N. memorandum not being implemented, but even the Russian ammonia exports stipulated under both agreements, including from the port of Yuzhny, as mentioned in the Black Sea initiative, are not being made,” Vershinin said, according to Russian news agency Tass.
The export of fertilizer, including ammonia, is part of the initiative, and on Friday the JCC said “there have been no such exports so far.”
Food and fertilizer products are not under Western sanctions, and the U.S., Britain, and the European Union have provided so-called “letters of comfort” to businesses to ease their concerns about trading in them with Russia.
“We’re trying to push things forward on different tracks, all with the same aim of getting as much food and fertilizer to those who desperately need it,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said of the organization’s efforts to lower barriers to Russian exports.
Ukrainian exports are moving slowly. Data from the JCC show that May’s exports are far below their monthly averages and capacity.
Just over 1 million metric tons have been exported so far in May from the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa, and none from the port of Pivdennyi/Yuzhny. In previous months, it has averaged around 3 million metric tons.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said Thursday on Twitter that Russia is obstructing exports from Pivdennyi and that 28 vessels are waiting to enter the port.
Ships must be inspected by the JCC on their inbound and outbound journeys to Ukraine. Vessel inspections have substantially slowed to an average of 3.2 a day, down from a high of 10.6 in October.
Diplomats have previously blamed Russia for slowing inspections at the JCC.
The JCC said based on information it received from Ukraine, there are 54 vessels waiting to move to Ukrainian ports. Out of these, 11 applications have been shared with the JCC for registration. There are also 13 vessels loading in Ukrainian ports — six in Chornomorsk and seven in Odesa.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the World Food Program purchased more than half of its wheat from Ukraine. Since the Black Sea Grain Initiative began in August, WFP has been able to retrieve 625,000 metric tons of grain for its operations. On Friday, the JCC said it registered two WFP-chartered vessels to sail to Ukraine to pick up cargo.