GENEVA, Switzerland (AP) — A Russian delegation at talks with senior UN officials said Monday that Moscow is ready to accept an extension to a grain export deal that has helped bring down global food prices amid the war with Ukraine — but only for 60 days as the Kremlin holds out for changes to how the arrangement is working.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal between the two warring countries in July that allows Ukraine — one of the world’s key breadbaskets — to ship food and fertiliser from three of its Black Sea ports.
The 120-day agreement, which helped take some of the sting out of rising global food prices, was renewed last November. That extension expires on Saturday, and another 120-day extension was on the table.
Moscow has been frustrated that a parallel deal to allow exports of Russian food and fertiliser, which is used across the globe, has only resulted in a trickle of Russian fertiliser getting out and no Russian grain at all.
“The comprehensive and frank conversation has once again confirmed that while the commercial export of Ukrainian products is carried out at a steady pace, bringing considerable profits to Kiev, restrictions on the Russian agricultural exporters are still in place,” the Russian delegation said in a statement.
“The sanctions exemptions for food and fertilisers announced by Washington, Brussels and London are essentially inactive,” it claimed.
As part of the arrangement, Moscow wants Russian ammonia to be fed through a pipeline across Ukraine to reach Black Sea ports for possible export. Russian officials also say banking restrictions and high insurance costs have hurt their hopes of exporting fertiliser.
Rebeca Grynspan, secretary general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN humanitarian agency, hosted a team led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin at UN offices in Geneva.
A lot is at stake: Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia where millions of people don’t have enough to eat. Russia was also the world’s top exporter of fertiliser before the war.
The loss of those supplies, after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, drove global food prices higher and fuelled concerns of a hunger crisis in poorer countries.
The so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative involves seaborne checks of cargo by UN, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish officials to ensure that only foodstuffs — not weapons — are being transported.
The amount of grain leaving Ukraine has dropped even as the deal works to keep food flowing. Inspections of ships under the grain initiative have fallen sharply since they got rolling in earnest in September, and vessels have been backed up.
Western critics accuse Russia of dragging its heels on inspections. Moscow denies that.
Though the grain deal helped stabilise global food prices, there are still concerns about the impact on prices of possible trade restrictions and weather, especially heat waves, said Michael Puma, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research whose research focuses on global food security.
“Big picture, we’re pretty fortunate that the weather conditions have allowed … high levels of production across many of the grains,” he said.
On the front lines in Ukraine, the eastern city of Bakhmut remained the site of fierce fighting, with Ukrainian forces denying Russian forces the prize of its capture after six months of attrition.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian millionaire with ties to President Vladimir Putin who owns the Wagner private military company, has repeatedly claimed that only the Wagner fighters, not the regular army, are involved in battles for Bakhmut. His claims could not be independently verified.
“The situation around Bakhmut remains difficult,” said Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the Ukrainian Commander of Ground Forces. “Wagner’s assault units are advancing from several directions, trying to break through the defences of our troops and advance to the central districts of the city.”
Ukraine’s presidential office said Monday that four civilians were killed and 11 wounded in the country over the previous 24 hours.
Two people were killed in the southern Mykolaiv region on Monday morning, when Russian forces shelled the village of Kutsurub. Three more, including a seven-year-old child, were wounded.
On Monday, one civilian was killed in Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, where a school building was destroyed, and five others were wounded by Russian shelling of the village of Kostiantynivka. Another person was killed by shelling of Znob-Novhorodske in the northern Sumy region that also wounded four local residents.
Russian officials accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the town of Volnovakha in the Russia-controlled part of the Donetsk region that killed two civilians and wounded two others on Monday.