RRussia again participates in the agreement on the export of Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday afternoon that, through the mediation of the United Nations and Turkey, it had received written guarantees from Ukraine that it would not use the humanitarian corridor for food exports militarily against Russia. Russia justified its withdrawal from the agreement on Saturday with a drone attack on the military port in Sevastopol on the occupied Crimean peninsula, in which three Russian warships are believed to have been severely damaged.
Russia’s return to the so-called Black Sea Initiative was preceded by a phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday evening. According to the Kremlin, in this conversation Putin repeated the accusation previously made by the defense and foreign ministries in Moscow that Ukraine used the humanitarian corridor to cover the attack on the port of Sevastopol; ships were said to have been damaged, which had been used to secure the grain transport. Putin’s spokesman said on Monday that Russia could no longer guarantee the safety of the routes specified in the agreement – this was widely understood as a threat, since the only danger for the cargo ships leaving Ukrainian ports emanated from Russian military activities.
Despite the Russian threats, freighters loaded with wheat, corn and sunflower meal left Ukrainian ports in the past few days, according to the UN; four ships have also set course for Ukrainian ports. The trips of the ships were agreed by the delegations of the United Nations, Turkey and Ukraine in the Joint Coordination Center (JCC), their cargo was inspected by JCC teams. The results were communicated to the Russian delegation. According to Ukrainian information, far fewer ships than planned have left the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhne since Russia pulled out of the grain agreement.
The United States and the EU had called on Russia to return to the grain agreement. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “deep concern” after the suspension of Russian participation and called on the warring parties to refrain from anything that could jeopardize the grain agreement. According to the United Nations, the agreement signed on July 22 has helped push food prices down in recent months. This prevented about 100 million people from slipping into extreme poverty.
Grain prices rose sharply after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, as both Ukraine and Russia are among the largest producers of wheat, corn and sunflowers in the world. The Russian Navy had blocked the Ukrainian Black Sea ports; in addition, Ukraine had laid sea mines out of fear of Russian landing operations. As a result, only a fraction of last year’s harvest that was still stored in the Ukraine was able to reach the markets overland. According to the agreement, the movements of the cargo ships will be coordinated in the Joint Coordination Center JCC in Istanbul. Ukraine receives security guarantees; Inspections of the ships by teams from the JCC are intended to ensure that no weapons reach Ukraine in this way.
Even after Russia’s return, it is unclear whether the agreement, which is initially valid for 120 days, will apply beyond November 19. Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly questioned it several times since early September. First, he claims that the grain exported from Ukraine does not actually benefit ailing countries in Africa and Asia, but rather rich Europeans.
On the other hand, he complains that Russian grain and fertilizer exports to the world market are being hampered. Although both are exempt from sanctions by the EU and the United States, there seem to be difficulties with insuring Russian cargo ships, for example. In addition, according to research by Ukrainian and American media, a significant part of the grain that Russia wants to export was stolen in the Russian-occupied areas of southern Ukraine.