Russia has threatened to withdraw from a wartime deal allowing the export of Ukrainian grain to global markets if the West fails to remove obstacles to Russian agricultural exports. The deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July, was created to unblock shipments that were stuck in Ukraine’s blockaded and mined ports, alleviating rising food prices and the threat of hunger in some countries. A separate agreement aimed to facilitate the export of Russian fertilizers and grain.
However, Moscow has repeatedly complained that the deal failed to work for Russian agricultural exports, which have had trouble reaching world markets due to Western sanctions. Private shipping and insurance companies remain cautious about handling Russian commodities amid the war in Ukraine. Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December, and January, according to financial data provider Refinitiv. But experts say financing, logistics, transportation, and insurance obstacles have remained and even grown tougher.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Russia agreed last month to extend the deal for 60 days, instead of the 120 days set under a previous extension, to send a warning signal to the West. Lavrov shrugged off the West’s argument that Russian food and fertilizers are not subject to sanctions. He noted that “obstacles related to financing, logistics, transportation, and insurance of Russian exports have remained and even have grown tougher.”
Lavrov’s warning echoed one from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said last month that Moscow could end its participation in the initiative if its conditions were not met. Putin said Russia expected the facilitation of exports of its agricultural products as part of a package agreement.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose country joined the UN and Ukraine in pressing for a 120-day extension before the deal on Ukrainian exports expired last month, said he and Lavrov “agreed that the obstacles to the export of Russian grain and fertilizer should be removed immediately.” Lavrov and Cavusoglu also discussed Russian efforts to forge reconciliation between Turkey and Syria. Turkey has backed armed opposition groups that have sought to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s government during the Syrian civil war.
Turkey has control over large swaths of territory in northwestern Syria, and Damascus is pressing for the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syria as a prerequisite for normalization of ties. Turkey is looking for security guarantees, including regarding Kurdish militants in Syria that Ankara considers terrorists.
Experts say that instead of agreeing to another extension later this year, Russia may decide to cooperate directly with Turkey and Qatar to ensure grain gets to the countries that need it. However, it remains to be seen how this would affect the current deal and its impact on global food prices.
Lavrov and Cavusoglu also discussed Russian efforts to forge reconciliation between Turkey and Syria. Turkey has backed armed opposition groups that have sought to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s government during the Syrian civil war. Turkey has control over large swaths of territory in northwestern Syria, and Damascus is pressing for the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syria as a prerequisite for normalization of ties. Turkey is looking for security guarantees, including regarding Kurdish militants in Syria that Ankara considers terrorists.
On the Ukrainian front, tensions have been escalating since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed separatists in a conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people. The conflict has intensified in recent weeks, with Ukraine reporting a buildup of Russian troops near its border and in Crimea. Moscow has said it is conducting military exercises in the area and that its troop movements pose no threat to anyone.
The United States and its European allies have imposed a raft of sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia has responded with countermeasures, including a ban on most Western food imports that has hit European farmers hard.
The deal on Ukrainian grain exports was seen as a way to alleviate food shortages in some countries and to prevent a further spike in global food prices. The deal has also been seen as a way to boost Ukraine’s economy, which has been hit hard by the conflict in the east and by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN has warned that more than 3 million people in eastern Ukraine are facing a humanitarian crisis, with access to healthcare and education severely limited. The conflict has also displaced more than 1.4 million people, with many living in makeshift shelters or overcrowded apartments.
Russia’s decision to consider withdrawing from the deal has sparked concern among some countries that rely on Ukrainian grain exports. The United Nations has called for the deal to be extended, and Turkey has said it will continue to work to ensure that grain shipments are not disrupted.
The situation remains uncertain, with Russian officials insisting that the West must remove obstacles to Russian agricultural exports if the deal is to continue. The West, meanwhile, has been critical of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and has shown little sign of easing sanctions.
As tensions between Russia and the West continue to escalate, the fate of the deal on Ukrainian grain exports remains unclear. Some experts have suggested that the deal could be salvaged if both sides are willing to compromise, but others warn that Russia’s withdrawal from the deal could have serious consequences for global food security and for Ukraine’s economy.
For now, the international community is watching and waiting to see how the situation develops. As the world faces a range of complex challenges, from climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fate of the Ukrainian grain deal serves as a reminder of the ongoing tensions and uncertainties that continue to shape our world.