With the final point nearing a crucial deal that allowed Ukraine’s grain shipments through a Russian naval blockade, the United Nations said it was racing to bridge differences to extend the deal, which has helped ease food shortages. and limit price increases.
Russia and Ukraine have disagreed over how long to extend the deal, which is due to expire on Saturday night. Moscow has said it would agree to an extension of just 60 days because its own food and fertilizer exports were being hampered by sanctions. Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations have pushed for a 120-day renewal, in line with the initial agreement in July and with a subsequent extension in November.
The deal allows ships carrying grain and fertilizer from Ukraine safe passage into Turkish waters, where they are inspected by a joint team of Turkish, UN, Ukrainian and Russian officials.
It was a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Ukraine and Russia since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, but Russia has held the deal hostage at various times during the war. In late October, the Kremlin abruptly suspended its participation in the deal after an attack on its warships in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, but rejoined a few days later.
At the time, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said in televised remarks: “Russia reserves the right to abandon these agreements if these guarantees from Ukraine are violated.”
The United Nations is “doing everything possible” to ensure the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which it negotiated with Turkey, Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian chief, told the Security Council on Friday, the eve of the expiration. of the agreement.
“Talks are taking place in various permutations at various levels,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said on Friday.
The Black Sea has been a strategically important flashpoint where Russia’s mighty naval fleet is pitted against three North Atlantic Treaty Organization members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, which share the coastline. This week, a US surveillance drone was shot down after being hit by a Russian fighter jet, US officials said. That was the first known physical contact between the Russian and US military since the war began.
On Thursday, the Ukrainian army said it had observed a strong increase in the number of Russian warships in the Black Sea to 21, from 13 one day before.
Since the grain deal went into effect last summer, more than 23 million tons of grain have been exported through the corridor, stabilizing food prices and easing shortages. according The United Nations.
Ukraine is one of the top exporters of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower, but its shipments plummeted after the war began. Exports from Russia, another major supplier, also fell.
“It saves lives,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council on Friday. “The world needs this grain. It should flow freely.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on Friday. called Russia’s insistence on a shorter timeframe for the deal is “manipulation for more blackmail and fomenting a global food crisis.”
Talks on the extension of the agreement began on Monday in Geneva. The agreement on the previous extension, in November, was reached with days to spare.