March 3, 2024

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The last ship leaves Ukraine as the fate of the Black Sea grain deal is in Russia’s hands

The last ship leaves Ukraine as the fate of the Black Sea grain deal is in Russia’s hands

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The last ship left port in Ukraine on Wednesday under a deal that allows Ukrainian grain to be safely exported from the Black Sea, a day before Russia pulls out of the deal over obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports.

DSM Capella left the port of Chornomorsk with 30,000 tons of corn and was on its way to Turkey, according to data from the United Nations.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the Black Sea agreement for an initial 120 days in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis exacerbated by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters.

Moscow agreed to extend the Black Sea agreement for another 120 days in November, but agreed in March to extend it by 60 days – until May 18 – unless a list of demands on its agricultural exports were met.

To convince Russia in July to allow the export of grain from the Black Sea, the UN at the same time agreed to help Moscow with its agricultural shipments for three years.

“There are still many open questions about our part of the deal. Now a decision has to be made,” Russian media quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as telling reporters on Tuesday.

Senior officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations met in Istanbul last week to discuss the Black Sea Agreement. “Contacts are taking place at different levels. It is clear that we are at a sensitive stage,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week he believed the deal could be extended for at least another two months.

While Russian exports of food and fertilizer are not subject to Western sanctions imposed in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have impeded shipments.

The United States rejected Russia’s complaints. “They are exporting grain and fertilizer at the same levels, if not higher, than before the full invasion,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last week.

Risks

Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations form a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul, which implements the Black Sea export deal. They authorize and inspect ships. The JCC has not authorized any new vessels since May 4.

Authorized vessels are screened by JCC officials near Turkey before traveling to a Ukrainian Black Sea port via a humanitarian sea corridor to collect their cargo and return to Turkish waters for a final inspection.

And in an excerpt from a letter seen by Reuters last month, Russia told its JCC counterparts that it would not agree to any new ships participating in the Black Sea deal unless the transits took place by May 18 — “the expected date … termination.”

It said this was to “avoid business losses and prevent potential safety risks” after May 18.

Given this warning by Russia, it seems unlikely that any of the shipowners or insurance companies would be willing to continue transporting Ukraine’s grain exports if Russia did not agree to extend the deal and decided to withdraw.

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The United Nations, Turkey and Ukraine continued the Black Sea agreement in October during a brief suspension by Russia of their participation.

About 30.3 million tons of grain and food were exported from Ukraine under the Black Sea Agreement, including 625,000 tons on WFP ships for relief operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by David Leungren. Editing by Grant McCall

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