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UN in Talks to Keep Black Sea Grain Deal Alive

Belize flag bulker Queen Lila, carrying corn under UN's Black Sea grain initiative, waits for inspection in the northern anchorage of Istanbul, Turkey May 14, 2023.

The United Nations aid chief said Monday that the organization is engaged in “intensive discussions” to keep alive the deal that facilitates the export of Russian and Ukrainian grain and fertilizer through the Black Sea, as the May 18 deadline Russia has set to possibly leave the deal draws closer.

“I hope you will agree that continuation of the Black Sea Initiative is critically important, as is recommitment by the parties to its smooth and efficient operation,” Martin Griffiths told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Ukraine. “We will continue to call on all parties to meet their responsibilities as the world watches us very closely.”

On Thursday, the four parties to the deal — Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations — met in Istanbul to discuss its future. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday that talks would continue this week at a technical level.

Since it was signed on July 22 in Istanbul, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has facilitated the safe export of more than 30 million metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs from three Black Sea ports in Ukraine to global markets, helping to supply markets and lower wheat prices.

A corresponding 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. But Moscow has repeatedly complained that it is not benefiting enough from the deal.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador reiterated some of Moscow’s demands Monday, including the export of its ammonia — a key component in fertilizer — via the TogliattiAzot pipeline in Odesa and the return of the Russian agriculture bank to the SWIFT financial transaction network.

“For almost a year, we see that there has been no progress in the second part of the package deal,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia complained of the Memorandum of Understanding between Russia and the U.N.

Ukraine’s envoy said Russia’s obstruction of inspections at the joint inspection facility in Istanbul meant Ukraine only exported half their agricultural capacity in April.

“It is disgusting that Russia still pretends to be on the losing side of the deal,” said Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya. “I will not even remind the council of the immorality of such complaints from the aggressor state, which has been and remains the only threat to food shipments in the Black Sea.”

Under the terms of the initiative, the deal should be renewable every 120 days, but at the last renewal in March, Russia agreed to only a 60-day extension, which expires on May 18. Kyslytsya called it Moscow’s “blackmail deadline.”

Of the 15 Security Council members, of which Russia is a member, 14 emphasized the importance of the grain deal and called for its full implementation and extension.