KIEV, May 23 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Pivdennyi port has shut down operations because Russia won’t let ships enter the port, effectively barring it from a deal that allows for safe grain exports from the Black Sea, a Ukrainian official said on Tuesday.
The Black Sea Grains Initiative, signed by Russia and Ukraine last July and extended by two months last week, aims to ensure the safe export of grain and food from three Ukrainian ports — Odessa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi — during the war.
The United Nations, which brokered the deal and its extension with Turkey, expressed concern on Monday that Pivdennyi – near Odessa on the Black Sea – had not received any vessels under the deal since May 2.
“Officially the port of Pivdennyi is part of the initiative, but in fact it hasn’t been there for a month. There is no incoming fleet,” Ukraine’s Deputy Renovation Minister Yuriy Vaskov told Reuters.
“They (Russia) have now found an effective way to significantly reduce (Ukrainian) grain exports by excluding the port of Pivdennyi, which handles large-tonnage ships, from the initiative,” he said in written comments.
Vaskov called the move a “gross breach” of the agreement.
The Black Sea Grains Agreement was agreed to help address a global food crisis exacerbated by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to the agreement, all ships calling at Ukrainian ports must be inspected by a joint team including Russian inspectors. Russian inspectors have refused to inspect ships bound for Pivdenniy since April 29, Vaskov said.
Pivdennyi is the initiative’s largest port in terms of throughput. Restoration Ministry data shows it stocks about 1.5 million tons of food for future export to 10 countries, and has 26 ships scheduled to collect it.
OFFER “NOT WORKING AS IT SHOULD”
Vaskov said Tuesday’s inspection plan showed that Russia included only three of the 13 ships submitted. All ships bound for Pivdenniy were excluded, he said, as were some bound for Odessa and Chornomorsk.
The Russian team inspected just nine ships in total from May 19-21, Ukrainian officials said.
“The Grains Initiative has been officially declassified (extended) but it is not working as it should. “Russia continues to slow it down as much as possible,” he said.
Vaskov told Reuters last week that 62 ships are ready for inspection and some of them have been ready for several months. Russia has denied a slowdown in inspections.
Moscow initially refused to extend the grain export agreement if the demands regarding its own agricultural exports were not met.
While Russian food and fertilizer exports are not subject to Western sanctions, restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance pose a barrier to supplies, according to Moscow.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Pivdennyi used it to transport up to 2.5 million tons of ammonia a year abroad, which arrived at the port after being shipped via a pipeline from Togliati.
According to the Joint Coordination Center that implements the Black Sea Export Agreement, more than 30 million tons of food have been exported from Ukrainian ports through the Grain Corridor so far, and just over 50% of that was corn.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Barbara Lewis)
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