Russia Halts Wartime Grain Deal with Ukraine

July 17, 2023

Russia has halted a year-old wartime deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to other countries via the Black Sea.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov announced Monday that the July 2022 Black Sea Grain Initiative was effectively terminated until Russia’s demands to get its own food and fertilizer to the world are met.

“When the part of the Black Sea deal related to Russia is implemented, Russia will immediately return to the implementation of the deal,” Peskov said.

Moscow claims that it’s facing hurdles to shipping its food and fertilizer, but those assertions run counter to data that shows Russia has been exporting record amounts of wheat. 

The deal, negotiated in Istanbul, Turkey, allowed Ukraine to ship grain to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Its dissolution raises global fears of food insecurity, particularly in countries at risk of famine due to conflict, drought and economic struggles, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.

The United Nations is among the organizations that had been taking pains to keep the Initiative intact, as Ukraine and Russia are both major suppliers of such food products as wheat, barley and vegetable oil.

However, even ahead of the Kremlin’s announcement Monday, transport of grain through the Black Sea had been significantly reduced in the wake of the Ukraine-Russia war, with inspections of Ukrainian ships, meant to ensure vessels are only carrying food and not weapons, cut to half their peak under the grain deal. 

Some U.S. and Ukrainian officials accused Russia of deliberately slowing down inspections, but Russia has denied that charge. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the deal’s suspension was expected and accused Moscow of engaging in political theater.

“The [Kremlin’s] statement itself immediately includes an escape clause,” he said. “Therefore, we are dealing with classic public techniques of the Russian Federation that no longer require significant reciprocal reactions.”

Turkey’s foreign minister was set to speak with his Russian counterpart on Monday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed optimism that the grain deal would be extended. 

PHOTO: Cargoes of grain from Ukraine in Black Sea humanitarian corridor, 2022

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