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Russia returns to Black Sea Grain Initiative after ‘written guarantees’ from Ukraine

More than 32 million tonnes of food commodities have been exported from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports to 45 countries across three continents under the Black Sea Grain Initiative (File image courtesy: Joint Coordination Centre/United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

In a move that has averted a major global food crisis for now, Russia resumed its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative late Wednesday after receiving “written guarantees” from Ukraine on the non-use of the humanitarian corridor for military operations.

Moscow had suspended the implementation of the agreement on the export of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports after the attack on its Black Sea Fleet at the naval base in Sevastopol on October 29.

Russia claimed that the Ukrainian armed forces, “under the cover of the humanitarian grain corridor”, had launched massive air and sea strikes against its ships and infrastructure.

The Vladimir Putin government also stated that it cannot guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Initiative following the attack on Saturday.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dialled his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and outlined the need to ensure the receipt of guarantees from Ukraine on the non-use of the humanitarian corridor and Ukrainian ports, identified in the interests of the export of agricultural products, to conduct military operations against the Russian Federation.

“Only under such conditions is it possible to discuss the issue of resuming traffic along the security corridor defined by the Black Sea Initiative,” Lavrov said.

The United Nations, which is backing the initiative signed by Russia, Ukraine and Turkey in Istanbul on July 22 in order to give global access to Ukrainian food products and Russian food and fertilizer, too announced that it will not to plan any movement of vessels in the region for Wednesday.

Russia also cleared its position to the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council.

The crisis was diffused after the Russian Defence Ministry issued a statement today that the Ukrainian side has officially assured of using the maritime humanitarian corridor only in accordance with the provisions of the Black Sea Initiative and the related regulations.

“With the help of UN and Turkey, written guarantees from Ukraine on the non-use of the humanitarian corridor and Ukrainian ports, designated for the export of agricultural products, for military operations against Russia were obtained and submitted to the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) on 1st November 2022,” the statement detailed.

Russia said it agreed on resuming the implementation of the agreement after “finding sufficient” the guarantees received at the moment.

Moscow’s decision drew a collective sigh of relief from many, including the world’s poorer nations.

More than 9.7 million metric tonnes of grain and foodstuffs have been moved from Ukrainian ports under the Black Sea Grain Initiative till now.

Ukraine and Russia account for roughly 30 per cent of the world’s exported wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil.

Russia is also the world’s largest exporter of fertilizers, accounting for 15 per cent of global exports.

According to the UN estimates, with the grain exports from Ukraine and Russia rising substantially, the subsequent decline in food prices may have prevented over 100 million people from falling into poverty.

However, the UN trade and development body UNCTAD feared that uncertainty around the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative is causing prices to spike again, with wheat futures rising by over six per cent on Monday alone.

“At the same time, fertilizer prices are still two and half times their 2019 level, producing a global ‘fertilizer crunch’ that is hitting smallholder farmers in the developing world especially hard,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan at a UN Security Council meeting on suspension of participation in Black Sea Grain Initiative on October 31.

Also Read: Russia says ready to open ‘grain corridor’ only if Ukraine stops misusing it for military attacks