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Black Sea grain deal extended, UN says

March 18, 2023

Russia and Ukraine had been at odds over an extension of the grain export deal that has helped contain the global food crisis. The UN did not specify the length of the renewal.

A ship being loaded in the Odesa Port, Ukraine
Before the war Ukraine, sometimes described as the breadbasket of Europe, was the world's fourth-largest corn exporter and fifth-biggest wheat seller.Image: BePress/abaca/picture alliance

The United Nations said on Saturday that a  deal allowing for the safe export of grain from Ukrainian reports had been extended.

The UN did not specify the length of the renewal, while Russia and Ukraine issued conflicting statements on the matter.

"The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul on 22 July 2022, has been extended," the UN said in a statement, and thanked the Turkish government for its diplomatic and operational support of the deal.

Turkey's President Reccep Tayip Erdogan also confirmed the extension without specifying how long it would last.

Disagreement between Russia and Ukraine

The length of the extension of the pact had been a sticking point in the renewal process with Russia wanting 60 days and Ukraine wanting 120 days.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a tweet that the agreement had been extended for 120 days.

However Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow had only agreed to a 60-day extension.

"We are seeing reports from parties to the 'grain deal' that the deal has been extended for 120 days," Zakharova said in remarks reported by the Interfax news agency. "We have repeatedly stated... that the Russian side has notified all parties to the deal that it is extending the deal for 60 days." 

A day earlier, aid chief Martin Griffiths said that the UN was "doing everything possible" to ensure the Black Sea grain deal continues.

The initial 120-day agreement struck with the UN and Turkey was extended in November for a further 120 days, and was due to expire at 21:00 GMT on Saturday.

"Attempts by the aggressor to reduce the extension period are a manipulation to continue further blackmail and deepen a global food crisis. We have to prevent this," Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said earlier.

According to the UN, Ukraine has exported nearly 25 million tons of food under the deal that has helped bring down global food prices.

"The world relies on these supplies," Griffiths said.

Russia's deadline on sanctions

Moscow says a parallel agreement has failed to facilitate Russian exports of grain and fertilizer through the Black Sea.

The West has imposed tough sanctions on Russia for its full-scale invasion and war in Ukraine. While its food and fertilizer exports are not under sanctions, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance industries are a barrier to shipments.

"If Brussels, Washington and London are genuinely interested to continue the export of food from Ukraine through the maritime humanitarian corridor then they have two months to exempt from their sanctions the entire chain of operations which accompany the Russian agricultural sector," Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council.

Griffiths admitted obstacles remain to help facilitate Russian food and fertilizer exports, notably the payment systems.

"It is vital for global food security that both of these agreements continue and should be fully implemented," he said.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Council, "sanctions are not the issue."

"When it comes to sanctions we have gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate the clear carve-outs for food and fertilizers to governments and to the private sector," she said.

lo,sdi/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)