29th Mar 2023

Grain vessels leave Ukraine despite Russia torpedoing deal

  • Global wheat prices jumped by five percent on Monday, following Russia’s withdrawal from a UN grain deal (Photo: Jon Bunting)
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At least 12 cargo ships departed from Ukrainian ports on Monday (31 October), despite Russia's withdrawal from a United Nations-brokered grain export deal, according to Ukrainian infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

These include a vessel headed for Ethiopia with 40,000 tonnes of grain.

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Russia's decision to suspend its participation in a UN grain deal has triggered concerns over food security worldwide — but efforts are underway to keep the deal in force.

"We support UN-led efforts to keep the agreement alive and stress that all parties must refrain from any unilateral action that would imperil the Black Sea Grain Initiative which is a critical humanitarian effort having a positive impact on access to food for millions of people," said the EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski in Brussels.

Russia announced its withdrawal from the grain deal for an "indefinite term" on Saturday, following an underwater drone attack at their naval base in Sevastopol in Crimea, blamed on Ukraine.

Ukraine's minister for foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, accused Russia of using the explosions that took place 220km from the grain corridor as a "false pretext" to walk out of the UN deal.

According to the Kyiv government, nearly 200 vessels loaded with two million tonnes of Ukrainian grain were blocked in the Black Sea this weekend.

On Sunday, an international chorus —including the EU, Nato, UN and US — urged Russia to reconsider its decision.

"Russia's decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea deal puts at risk the main export route of much-needed grain and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday.

US president Joe Biden said Russia's decision was "purely outrageous."

And global wheat prices jumped by five percent on Monday, following Russia's decision.

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN, signed an agreement in mid-July to facilitate the safe transport of grain and other agricultural products from Ukrainian ports.

More than 400 vessels carrying a total of nine million metric tons of grain and other food proctors have left Ukrainian ports since then.

The agreement was set to expire on 19 November but there was hope that it would be renewed.

Turkey's efforts

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who helped to break the impasse over the grain deal after months of negotiations, said on Monday that his country was determined to keep the grain deal in place.

"Although Russia acts hesitantly… we will resolutely continue our efforts to serve humanity," Erdogan said in a televised address, AFP reported.

Russia, meanwhile, has warned that the transportation of grain exports from Ukraine would be risky under the current circumstances.

"In conditions when Russia is talking about the impossibility of guaranteeing the safety of shipping in these areas, such a deal is hardly feasible, and it takes on a different character — much more risky, dangerous and unguaranteed," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

With the war in Ukraine, inflation in low-income countries has surged exponentially, exacerbating the hunger crisis in many countries in Africa and the Middle East.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee (IRC) said the suspension of grain exports would put the hunger crisis in countries like Yemen and Somalia on the brink of "a catastrophic famine".

African Union chief raises alarm over food crisis at EU summit

Disruption in exports of grain and fertilisers as a consequence of the Ukraine war is triggering a "worrying" situation for the continent hosting 282 million undernourished people, African Union president Macky Sall told EU leaders at the summit.

'Symbolic' Putin indictment gets some EU backing

Several EU foreign ministers welcomed the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin, but it is unlikely to influence negotiations about a special tribunal on the crime of agression.

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