Millions will pay the price of Russia's grain deal exit: UN chief

AFP , Tuesday 18 Jul 2023

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Monday that millions of people facing hunger will "pay the price" of Russia's decision to exit the Ukraine grain deal.

Ukraine grain deal
File photo: A crew member prepares a grain analysis for a control made by members of the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) onboard the Barbados-flagged ship Nord Vind coming from Ukraine, loaded with grain and anchored in Istanbul, on October 11, 2022. AFP


He told reporters at the United Nations headquarters in New York that the move by Moscow will "strike a blow to people in need everywhere."

"Hundreds of millions of people face hunger and consumers are confronting a global cost-of-living crisis. They will pay the price," Guterres said.

The UN chief added that he deeply regretted Russia's decision but added it would not stop the world body's efforts to "facilitate the unimpeded access" to global markets of food and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia.

"Looking ahead, our goal must continue to be advancing global food security and global food price stability.

"This will remain the focus of my efforts, taking into account the rise in human suffering that will inevitably result from today's decision," he said.

Guterres lamented that a letter he had sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin last week with a new proposal to keep the initiative alive "went unheeded."

The letter, the contents of which had not been made public until now, proposed that a subsidiary of Russia's main agricultural bank, whose activities are hampered by sanctions, be reconnected to the global SWIFT banking system.

Russia has long complained that sanctions had hampered its own exports of grain and fertilizer, meaning that its terms for extending the initiative were not being met.

Guterres noted progress in this area, writing to Putin that "Russian grain trade has reached high export volumes and fertilizer markets are stabilizing with Russian exports nearing full recovery."

Commenting on the US administration calling on Moscow to return to the grain deal as soon as possible, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said in a statement "Washington has not lifted a finger to eliminate the agricultural agreements distortions that were created by the US."

Additionally, Antonov in the statement posted on the Russian embassy’s Telegram channel has accused the US of benefiting from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and transforming a humanitarian cause into a commercial project for Western agricultural companies adding that food products did not go to the countries most in need.

"For almost a year, food products were supplied not to destitute countries, but mainly to developed Western states," he emphasized.

"The decision of our country not to renew participation in the grain deal absolutely corresponds with the current circumstances. The [US] administration should stop misleading the rest of the world. We will be ready to consider the issue of restoring the mechanism only when we are absolutely certain about the efficiency and effectiveness of the package of the Istanbul Agreements," the Russian ambassador stressed.

Earlier at the UN, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Moscow of holding "humanity hostage" by exiting the grain deal.

She said Russia had "dealt another blow to the world's most vulnerable," just a week after it blocked the renewal of a key aid route to Syria that is a lifeline for millions of people living in rebel-held areas of the country.

"This is really another act of cruelty," Thomas-Greenfield said of the grain deal withdrawal.

"While Russia plays political games, real people will suffer," she added.

Looking back on last year the 16-month old Russia-Ukraine conflict saw Ukraine's Black Sea ports blocked by warships until an agreement, brokered by the UN and Turkey and signed in July 2022, allowed for the passage of critical grain shipments.

Russia's refusal to extend the grain deal was revealed after Ukraine army drones struck the only bridge connecting Russia's mainland to the Crimea peninsula, a key supply line for Russian forces in the south of Ukraine, yet Moscow said the attack had nothing to do with its withdrawal from the grain deal.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, has allowed 32.9 million metric tons (36.2 million tons) of food to be exported from Ukraine since August, more than half to developing countries, according to the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul.

The grain deal came to an end on July 17. Russia refused to extend it again because the part of the deal envisaging the removal of obstacles for Russian agricultural exports had not been implemented.

Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow was ready to resurrect the deal but only after its part related to obligations to Moscow was fulfilled.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization chief economist Maximo Torero said last week that the end of the deal would mean "a new spike for sure” in food prices — though it's unclear how long it will last.

Some analysts don't foresee a lasting rise in the cost of commodities like wheat because there’s enough grain in the world to go around. But many countries are already struggling with high local food prices, which are helping fuel hunger.

* This story has been edited by Ahram Online.

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