Russia’s threat to the Black Sea grain deal 

Russia has threatened not to renew its grain deal with Ukraine after it ends on July 17.

Despite the crisis, the agreement has allowed Ukraine to securely ship over 32 million tonnes of grain and other supplies across the Black Sea over the last year.

From the United Nations to humanitarian groups to European agriculture ministers, a chorus of voices is rising to save a pact that allows Ukrainian grain exports to pass through safely before it expires on July 17.

The International Rescue Committee has warned of “catastrophic ripple effects for the world’s most food insecure if a deal is not reached.” At the same time, the E.U. and U.N. last week proposed a concession to address Russia’s complaint that “hidden” Western sanctions are impeding its food and fertiliser exports.

According to a U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres followed up with a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin offering to facilitate Russian food and fertiliser exports further.

Their attempts are useless. Russia looks as undeterred by starvation warnings as it is by compromise proposals. “We willingly extended this so-called deal numerous times.” Several times. But, at some point, enough is enough,” Putin remarked in a television interview.

The importance of the grain pact

According to the U.N.’s Joint Coordination Centre, which manages the scheme, 32 million tonnes of food and fertiliser have been sent from Ukraine since it began.

Ukraine exported less than 1.4 million tonnes of grain in June 2023. It had shipped nearly four million tonnes per month during the previous nine months.

This is partly because Ukrainian farmers are producing less due to the ongoing war in significant portions of the nation.

The U.N. warned that “emergency levels of hunger” were threatening 44 million people in 38 nations.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, global food prices have dropped by 20% since the grain agreement was reached in July 2022.

How does the Black Sea grain agreement work

Russia and Ukraine signed the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a contract mediated by the U.N. and Turkey, on July 22, 2022.

It allows cargo ships to safely transit the Black Sea along a 310-nautical-mile-long and three-nautical-mile-wide corridor to and from the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.

Possible way out

Last week’s talks in Istanbul between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fueled suspicion that, if Russia refuses to provide safe passage in the Black Sea, the Turkish navy could accompany grain ships.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, Vasyl Bondar, dismissed this as wishful thinking. “Turkey will never engage Russia in open conflict, so the Turkish Navy escorting vessels is nonsense,” he told POLITICO. 

Ukraine has devised yet another strategy to protect ships transiting the Black Sea. It is establishing a $500 million guarantee fund to cover any damages or expenses that may arise.

This will function “like state insurance,” according to Mykola Gorbachov, president of the Ukrainian Grain Association. “For example, if Russia attacks, the state will just cover all expenses.”

Gorbachov said on the sidelines of a Food and Agriculture Organisation conference in Rome that he and his organisation had offered that the European Commission pay the compensation and Ukraine return the expenditures later.

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