ISTANBUL/UNITED NATIONS, May 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations on Thursday discussed UN proposals to extend an agreement allowing safe Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain from which Moscow announced on Thursday May 18 had threatened to pull out due to obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports.
The United Nations and Turkey negotiated the Black Sea Agreement last July to help address a global food crisis exacerbated by Moscow’s war in Ukraine. At the same time, the United Nations agreed to help Moscow facilitate its own agricultural shipments.
Thursday’s meeting of senior officials in Istanbul appeared to end with no approval from Russia to extend the Black Sea Agreement. The Kremlin said earlier Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin could talk to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan about extending the deal at short notice if necessary, but there are no such plans at this time.
“The meeting discussed the latest United Nations proposals, namely the resumption of the Togliatti-Odessa ammonia pipeline, the longer extension of the agreement, improvements in the Joint Coordination Center for Stable Operations and Exports, and other issues raised by the United Nations parties,” said the U.N.
“The parties have presented their views and agreed to address these elements in the future,” the United Nations said in a statement.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said talks on the Black Sea Grains Agreement had made progress and the parties agreed to continue quadripartite technical meetings on the deal. On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he believed the deal could be extended for at least two more months.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said after talks on Thursday that the grain deal should be extended and expanded for a longer period. He said talks would continue online.
Russia has issued a list of demands on its own agricultural exports that it wants met before agreeing to extend the deal. That includes restarting a pipeline delivering Russian ammonia to a Ukrainian Black Sea port, which the United Nations has been pushing for.
While these Russian exports are not subject to Western sanctions imposed after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Moscow notes that restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance are a barrier to supplies.
“To be clear: Russia exports quite well. “It exports grain and fertilizers at the same level, if not higher than before the all-out invasion (of Ukraine),” US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters.
Another key Russian demand is to restore access to the SWIFT payment system for the Russian Agricultural Bank, known as Rosselkhozbank, which was cut off by the European Union in June over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
As an alternative, the United Nations suggested that other banks could help process payments. Reuters has reported that JPMorgan JPM.N has processed the first payments for the Russian Agricultural Bank and could process dozens more, but Moscow has said it is not a long-term solution.
“Turning Food into Weapons”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin told Russian media in Istanbul on Thursday that the Black Sea Agreement “would lose its existence if Russia’s demands remained unresolved.” He expressly referred to SWIFT access.
According to the United Nations, about 30 million tons of grain and food were exported from Ukraine under the deal, including nearly 600,000 tons of grain in World Food Program ships for relief operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen.
Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations form a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul to implement the Black Sea Exports Agreement. They authorize and inspect ships. No new ships have been approved by the JCC since Thursday.
In an excerpt of a letter seen by Reuters last month, Russia told its JCC colleagues that it would not approve any new ships to participate in the Black Sea Agreement unless transits were completed by May 18 – “the expected date of … closure”. .”
“This is Russia weaponizing food once again,” Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday. “They are holding vulnerable and starving people hostage in Africa, the Middle East and around the world.”
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Ali Kucukgocmen and Huseyin Hayatsever in Ankara; Reuters contributors; Text by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)
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