A deal that allows Ukraine to export grain to world markets by ship despite Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea has been extended, the United Nations and the Ukrainian and Turkish governments said Saturday.
The Black Sea grain initiative, which was adopted in July under UN auspices and with Turkish mediation, has made it possible for Ukraine to send 25 million tonnes of grain and edible oils, easing the pressure on global food prices.
Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister in charge of infrastructure, said in a tweet that the agreement had been extended by 120 days.
However, Moscow indicated that it had only agreed to a 60-day extension. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reissued a letter it had sent to the United Nations earlier this week, saying it was only willing to extend beyond 60 days if there was “tangible progress” in unblocking Russian food and fertilizer for world markets.
The UN confirmed the deal had been rolled over but did not specify for how long, as did Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“The grain corridor agreement was supposed to expire today,” Erdoğan said in a speech in the Turkish city of Çannakale, Reuters reported. “As a result of our discussions with the two parties, we have secured an extension of this agreement.”
The original agreement, reached last year, specified that it would continue automatically for 120 days if neither party objected. Ukraine, Turkey and the UN supported a full extension. Kyiv says a 60-day extension creates too much uncertainty for grain traders and shippers.
The agreement was extended once in November. It allows the export of commercial food and fertilizers, including ammonia, from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports — Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.
The Kremlin had pushed for the reopening of a pipeline to pump ammonia, a raw material for fertilizer, from Tolyatti in central Russia to Odesa for export. It has also demanded an easing of what it claims are Western restrictions on Russian grain exports, even though they are not subject to sanctions.
The initiative has been a lifeline for Ukrainian farmers and grain traders because alternative export routes via rail and river barges have far less capacity and are much more expensive.
Ships are escorted out of the authorized ports to avoid mines and then follow an agreed humanitarian corridor south towards Turkey.
Ukrainian officials have complained that Moscow has undermined the agreement by ordering its officials to withdraw inspections of Ukrainian ships as they leave the Black Sea for the Bosphorus. Russian inspectors were ordered to work shorter hours and take longer with each ship, delaying dozens of ships for weeks, Kiev claimed.
“The Black Sea Grains Initiative, together with the Memorandum of Understanding to Promote Russian Food Products and Fertilizers on World Markets, is critical to global food security, especially for developing countries,” the UN said.
“We remain strongly committed to both agreements, and we call on all sides to redouble their efforts to implement them fully.”