UN seeks extension of key Ukraine-Russia wartime grain deal

GENEVA, 13 Mar: Senior U.N. officials hosted Russ-ian envoys in Geneva on Monday in a bid to extend an export agreement amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukra-ine and prevent a potential new spike in world food prices.
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 fertilizer 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 exten-sion expires on Saturday.
Moscow has been frustrated that a parallel deal to allow exports of Russian food and fertilizer, which is used across the globe, has only resulted in a trickle of Russian fertilizer getting out and no Russian grain at all.
As part of the arrange-ment, Moscow wants Russ-ian ammonia to be fed thro-ugh a pipeline across Ukra-ine to reach Black Sea ports for possible export. Russian officials also say banking restrictions and high insur-ance costs have hurt their hopes of exporting fertilizer.
Rebeca Grynspan, secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, and Martin Griffiths, the head of the U.N. humanitarian agency, were hosting a team led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin at U.N. offices in Geneva.
None of the officials involved spoke to reporters as they arrived for the talks.
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 fertilizer before the war.
The loss of those sup-plies, after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, drove global food prices higher and fueled concerns of a hunger crisis in poorer countries.
The so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative involves seaborne checks of cargo by U.N., 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. Inspec-tions of ships under the grain initiative have fallen sharply since they got rolling in ear-nest in September, and ves-sels have been backed up.
Western critics accuse Russia of dragging its heels on inspections. Moscow denies that.
Though the grain deal helped stabilize 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. (AP)