Russian officials have been pushing back against extending the United Nations’ Black Sea Grain initiative, which is due for its fourth renewal this coming Monday.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative was launched in July 2022 in Istanbul by Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the U.N. to establish safe exports of grain and related items such as foodstuffs and fertilizer, including ammonia, from designated Ukrainian ports to global markets.
Russia also agreed to a separate deal to facilitate shipments of its food and fertilizer, but now Moscow claims it’s facing hurdles—even though data shows that it has been exporting record amounts of wheat.
This is not the first time the Kremlin has threatened to end the Black Sea Grain Initiative. However, Russia has twice before extended the agreement for two months rather than the four months outlined in the deal.
The United Nations is among the organizations that have been taking pains to keep the Initiative intact, as Ukraine and Russia are both major suppliers of such food products as wheat, barley, vegetable oil.
Odessa and Mykolaiv are Ukraine’s two major grain export ports, both of which utilize the Black Sea, which military experts like former NATO Allied Commander James Stavridis have previously warned could open up as a new battle front in the Ukraine-Russia war.
In January, inspections of ships carrying Ukrainian grain had reduced to half their peak under the grain deal, creating a backlog of vessels carrying foodstuffs to developing nations. Some U.S. and Ukrainian officials accused Russia of deliberately slowing down inspections, but Russia denied that charge.
The inspections are meant to ensure vessels are only carrying food and not weapons. Average daily inspections have fallen from a peak of 11 vessels in October to slightly more than two in June.
Negotiations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan could potentially end with an agreement to extend the grain deal. Erdogan said on Saturday he was pressing the Kremlin to extend the initiative by at least three months. The Turkish President also announced a visit by Putin in August.
However, Russian media outlet RIA has reported “there is no optimism” surrounding the deal.
Russia’s exit from the grain deal would cut off a funding source for the United Nations’ World Food Program to countries at risk of famine due to conflict, drought and economic struggles, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.