KYIV, Ukraine – Tensions escalate as Russia refuses to extend the deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea, prompting outrage from the United Nations (UN).
The agreement, brokered by the UN and Türkiye and signed in July 2022, had permitted critical grain shipments to pass through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports despite Moscow’s invasion.
The deal came to an end on Monday, with the Kremlin citing unmet conditions related to the export of Russian food and fertilizers.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed deep concern over Kremlin’s decision, stating, “Hundreds of millions of people face hunger, and consumers are confronting a global cost-of-living crisis. They will pay the price.”
Guterres emphasised the potential humanitarian consequences and the impact on global food prices.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded defiantly, asserting that Ukraine would continue exporting grain through the Black Sea, despite Russia’s withdrawal.
Zelensky revealed that companies with ships have expressed readiness to assist in continuing shipments.
Moscow’s withdrawal from the agreement raises concerns about possible blockades of Ukrainian ports by Russian ships, as previously occurred during the early months of the conflict, driving up global food prices.
In response to Kremlin’s actions, Ukraine has activated aerial defences in the Odesa region, home to maritime terminals crucial for shipping grain.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, active for over a year, facilitated the export of more than 32 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain.
The deal’s expiration was marked by the final inspection of a ship carrying Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea in Istanbul on Monday.
The situation escalated further when drones attacked the Kerch bridge, the only connection between Russia’s mainland and the annexed Crimea peninsula.
The bridge is vital for Russian forces in the south of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the attack, vowing a response and calling for increased bridge security.
The international community swiftly responded to Russia’s decision, with the EU chief Ursula von der Leyen denouncing it as “cynical,” and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken deeming it “unconscionable” for “weaponizing food.”
Guterres emphasized that the UN would continue its efforts to facilitate unimpeded access to global markets for food and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia.
The UN World Food Programme heavily relied on the grain deal to provide relief to countries grappling with critical food shortages, including Afghanistan, Sudan, and Yemen.
Despite the development, international wheat prices remained relatively stable.
Nonetheless, Guterres and the international community have been working diligently to renew the deal, as it serves vital humanitarian and economic purposes for countries worldwide.
Meanwhile, Ukraine presses forward with its counteroffensive efforts, retaking several square kilometers of territory around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Russian forces had seized in May.
The conflict continues to draw international attention and concern, with Ukraine seeking further support from its allies to bolster its military capabilities.