Kyiv hopes that within days Russia will resume participation in a deal allowing shipments of Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea to help ease a global food crisis.
Talks between the UN, Turkey and Russia over Moscow’s return to the so-called Black Sea Grains Initiative continue after Moscow pulled out of the deal last Saturday. “We expect an answer within a few days at most,” Yuriy Vaskov, Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, said in an interview.
The deal was brokered by the United Nations and Ankara in July to end Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports after Moscow’s wholesale invasion of its neighbor in February. Since then, despite the war, more than 9 million tons of grain have passed through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
Ukraine is one of the world’s leading suppliers of grain and other agricultural products. Food security experts have warned that war-induced shortages will fuel further price increases, with grave consequences for poor countries already facing a crisis caused by the impact of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vaskov noted that 15 ships carrying grain have left Ukrainian ports since Monday, despite Russia suspending its participation in the Black Sea Agreement.
But he said Moscow’s quick return is crucial to allaying safety concerns from insurers, who have warned they would be unable to offer risk coverage for ships transporting grain through the war zone without them.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said Monday that continuing Black Sea grain shipments would be “much more risky, dangerous and unguaranteed” without Russia’s support. However, Russia has not threatened to attack such ships.
Shipments departing this week will remain insured as insurance offers are valid for seven days, but Russia’s return to the initiative is “necessary for the market,” Vaskov said.
Agricultural exports are a major source of foreign exchange inflows for Ukraine, which has relied heavily on foreign bailouts to fund its budget during the war. Also at stake is the ability of Ukrainian farmers to finance future crops, which are crucial to supplying world markets. Kyiv-based investment bank Dragon Capital said in a note to investors this week that “a prolonged disruption in sea exports would affect plantings in 2023.”
Deliveries this week have been efficient, and inspections of ships by Ukrainian, UN and Turkish personnel have been carried out “four times faster” without Russia, Vaskov said. The ships will be inspected near Istanbul before entering Ukrainian ports en route to the Black Sea en route to pick up grain and after exiting the waterway.
According to Vaskov, in recent months Russian inspectors have been dragging out the inspection process, causing long queues and pushing Ukrainian ports to 30 percent of their capacity.
Ukraine could “export 6 million or even 7 million tons per month” under the deal if the process went smoothly, he said. “We will work efficiently to ensure world food security.”
A quick fix is crucial, he added, noting a backlog of more than 100 incoming ships awaiting inspection west of the Bosphorus.
Ukraine has received information that some grain exporters renting the cargo ships have canceled charter flights, he said: “Maybe it’s insurance related, or maybe it’s insurance [the] Delays because some of them are waiting two weeks or more for inspections.”
The UN said late Tuesday that no ships would pass through the allocated Black Sea Corridor on Wednesday. Ukrainian officials said the decision was technical, with no political or security factors.
https://www.ft.com/content/566c6cd5-60eb-4f8e-82f5-342e45f5eff4 Kyiv hopes Russia will quickly return to the Black Sea Grain Agreement