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Uncertainty looms despite extension in Russia-Ukraine grain export deal

May 17, 2023

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As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine persists, concerns about its impact on global food supplies have intensified. With the two countries responsible for exporting nearly one-third of the world’s wheat and barley, a disruption in grain trade poses a threat to the food security of approximately 400 million people worldwide. The United Nations (UN) has warned that around 200 million individuals across 41 countries could face a severe food crisis or even famine if the situation escalates further.

Recognizing the significance of maintaining stable grain exports, Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey, acting as an intermediary, brokered an agreement back in July to allow for the safe passage of grain through the Black Sea. That initial deal was scheduled to expire on May 18, however, just a day before the deadline, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a two-month extension of the pact.

“With the efforts of our country, the support of our Russian friends and the contribution of our Ukrainian friends, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has been extended by another two months,” Erdogan wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

The future of the agreement had been in doubt, as Russia had indicated its reluctance to renew the terms, arguing that the existing agreement primarily favored Ukraine. Moscow insisted on a list of demands, including better guarantees for its own exports and the reopening of Russia’s ammonia pipeline into Odessa, Ukraine, among other stipulations.

The extent to which these demands were met in order to facilitate the latest short-term extension remains unclear. The intricacies of the negotiations and concessions made by both sides have not yet been made public.

“This is a chance to help ensure global food security, not in words, but in deeds. First and foremost, to help the countries most in need,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said, confirming the extension.

“We welcome the continuation of the initiative, but emphasize that it must work effectively,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, while another senior official in Ukraine said Russia must not be allowed to sabotage the agreement and must stop using food “as a weapon and blackmail.”

Highlighting the importance of a new agreement on a global scale, Deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq had emphasized that it is “important not simply … for Russia, but for the people around the world.” The UN’s World Food Programme estimates that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has already contributed to acute food insecurity for over a quarter of a billion people worldwide.

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