By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, April 21 (Reuters) – A deal allowing safe Black Sea exports of grain from Ukraine could come to an end next week after Russia said it will not authorize new ships unless their operators guarantee transits will occur by May 18 – “the estimated date of… closure.”
Russia has strongly signaled it will not allow the Black Sea export deal agreed with Ukraine last July to continue beyond May 18 because it failed to meet a list of demands to ease its own grain and fertilizer exports.
According to an excerpt of a letter seen by Reuters, Russia said that “based on the expected date of completion of the initiative (18 participation in the initiative” by 18
“It will be possible to avoid commercial losses and prevent possible security risks,” Russia warned in the letter.
As part of the deal, a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul — made up of officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations — will approve ships to take part in the deal.
These ships will then be inspected by JCC officials near Turkey before proceeding via a maritime humanitarian corridor to a Ukrainian Black Sea port to collect their cargo and return to Turkish waters for a final inspection.
Based on public data from the JCC, the exit inspection in April took place an average of 21 days after the entry inspection.
It is not clear whether Russia interprets “participation in the initiative” as meaning that a ship has its final inspection by May 18.
If a ship has to complete its final inspection by that date, it means that Russia will be barred from allowing new ships to transit under the deal as early as next week.
Russia’s UN mission in New York referred a request for comment to Moscow. The letter was sent to the United Nations by Russian JCC officials on Wednesday.
The United Nations declined to comment on the Russian letter.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York on Monday to discuss the future of the grain export agreement with Ukraine.
The deal was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to help deal with a global food crisis made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the deadliest war in Europe since World War II, according to UN officials.
To persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume grain exports from the Black Sea, a separate three-year deal was struck in July in which the UN agreed to help Russia export food and fertilizer.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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