Russia withdraws from Black Sea Grain Initiative, threatening global food security

Russia announces its exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a move that could exacerbate the global food crisis. The decision has been criticized by international leaders, with potential severe impacts on Ukraine's exports and the world's poorest populations.

8 mins read

On Monday, Russia announced its withdrawal from an agreement that has been in place for nearly a year, which ensured Ukraine’s safe export of its grain through three Ukrainian ports, bypassing Russian naval vessels in the Black Sea.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, mediated by the United Nations and Turkey, was established amid a worldwide food crisis, aiming to enable exports that were otherwise obstructed due to Russia’s 17-month conflict with Ukraine. A significant portion of the exported grain was directed to economically disadvantaged nations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his disapproval of Russia’s decision, emphasizing that the Black Sea exports “have served as a lifeline for global food security and a symbol of hope in a turbulent world.”

He added, “In a period when food production and availability are being disrupted by conflict, climate change, energy costs, and more, these agreements have contributed to a reduction in food prices by over 23% since March of the previous year. Today’s decision by the Russian Federation will have a detrimental impact on people in need globally.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., criticized Moscow for the interruption in grain shipments, labeling it as “another act of cruelty” by Russia.

She stated, “While Russia engages in political maneuvering, real people will bear the brunt: the malnourished child in the Horn of Africa, the mother who will cease to produce breast milk for her infant because she herself is undernourished. These are the repercussions of Russia’s actions.”

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed journalists that Russia should not have halted the Ukrainian grain shipments and that they “should be reinstated as soon as feasible.”

Prior to the agreement’s termination on Monday, Russia had expressed dissatisfaction with the benefits it was receiving under the initiative. Both Ukraine and Russia are significant global providers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other affordable food items.

Mykola Solsky, Ukraine’s Minister of Agrarian Policy, told VOA that “Ukrainian exports will be severely impacted as sea transportation is the most efficient method of exporting grain from Ukraine. On a global scale, this decision will push the world’s poorest people towards the edge of starvation as they will be compelled to pay more for food and purchase less of it due to Russia’s actions.”

He stated that Ukraine “will advocate for this grain corridor, and we will utilize all other export methods.” In addition to Ukrainian grain exports, a separate memorandum of understanding between Moscow and the United Nations has aimed to eliminate barriers to the export of Russian grain and fertilizer. Although the West does not prohibit food and fertilizer exports, efforts have been made to alleviate the concerns of anxious banks, insurers, shippers, and other private sector entities hesitant to conduct business with Russia.

One of Russia’s primary demands has been the reinstatement of its agriculture bank in the SWIFT system of financial transactions.

“Regrettably, the portion of these Black Sea agreements pertaining to Russia has not been implemented to date, so its effect is terminated,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov informed reporters. “As soon as the Russian part of the agreements is fulfilled, the Russian side will immediately resume the implementation of this deal.”

The U.N. reported that since the exports commenced in August 2022, 32.9 metric tons of food commodities have been exported to 45 countries. Experts predict that the non-renewal of the deal will lead to a surge in food prices.

The final ship to depart Ukraine under the agreement left a Ukrainian port on Sunday. Russia reported a Ukrainian attack on Monday on a bridge connecting Russia’s Krasnodar region to the Crimean Peninsula, a crucial military supply route, which resulted in the death of a civilian couple and injury to their child, while causing damage to the bridge’s road decking and disrupting traffic.

Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee attributed the attack to two Ukrainian sea drones.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, stated, “Destruction of the enemy’s logistical routes is destroying his potential, making it impossible to supply resources to counter. Therefore, any logistical artery along which the enemy pulls up its forces is a legitimate target, and destruction of it naturally or unnaturally is work for the counteroffensive to advance.” The bridge serves as a crucial link to supply Russian forces in their invasion of Ukraine.

Russian authorities reported that the attack damaged a section of the bridge closer to Crimea, the region Russia annexed in 2014 in a move not recognized by the international community. There was no damage to the bridge’s piers, Russia said.

The bridge was previously damaged in an October explosion that Russia also blamed on Ukraine. Ukrainian Security Service spokesman Artem Degtyarenko said in a statement that details of the incident would be revealed after Ukraine wins the war.

“We are observing with interest how one of the symbols of the Putin regime once again failed to withstand the military load,” Degtyarenko said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak also alluded to the attack in a tweet Monday, saying, “Any illegal structures used to deliver Russian instruments of mass murder are necessarily short-lived… regardless of the reasons for the destruction.”

A Ukrainian defense official reported on Monday that the country’s military had reclaimed 18 square kilometers of territory during the past week, and 210 square kilometers from Russian forces since launching a counteroffensive last month. The gains included seven square kilometers in the Bakhmut area, in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces have occupied the city since May.

In southern Ukraine, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported that Ukrainian fighters had reclaimed 11 square kilometers as they advance on the cities of Berdyansk and Melitopol.

Maliar also reported that Russian forces have advanced on Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine.

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