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Russia To Extend Grain Agreement With Ukraine For 60 Days, Not 120
Russia's UN envoy reiterated that Moscow is willing to extend the agreement, but only for 60 days, or half of the 120-day period stipulated in the agreement
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On the eve of the expiration of an agreement allowing Ukraine to export grain, the UN's humanitarian head called its extension critical to ensuring global food supplies and preventing prices from spiralling as they did following Russia's invasion of its smaller neighbour.
Russia's UN envoy reiterated that Moscow is willing to extend the agreement, but only for 60 days, or half of the 120-day period stipulated in the agreement.
Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia's briefing to the United Nations Security Council, which reaffirmed what a Russian team told top UN officials at a meeting in Geneva on Monday, reinforced the Kremlin's insistence on shortening the duration of the agreement to allow for changes in how the package works.
Last July, the United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal between the warring countries that permits Ukraine, one of the world's major breadbaskets, to ship food and fertilizer from three of its Black Sea ports. A second memorandum of understanding between the UN and Russia aims to overcome obstacles to Moscow's fertiliser shipments to global markets.
The initial 120-day agreement was renewed in November of last year and will expire on Saturday. It would be automatically extended for another 120 days unless one of the parties protested, which Nebenzia said Russia has officially objected to.
Martin Griffiths, the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, began the Security Council meeting by stating that the Black Sea grain initiative has seen global food prices continue to fall.
According to him, nearly 25 million metric tons of food have been exported since last August, and the United Nations World Food Program has been able to transport more than 500,000 metric tons of wheat to support humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen. Griffiths also stated that the United Nations-Russia Memorandum of Understanding must be completely implemented.
"Meaningful progress has been made, but impediments remain, particularly with regard to payment systems," he said, emphasizing that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and trade head Rebeca Grynspan "are sparing no effort to facilitate its full implementation."
However, Russia's Nebenzia stated that "the memorandum is simply not working," and that the United Nations must realize that it has "no leverage to exempt Russian agricultural export operations from Western sanctions," and that its efforts have yielded no results.
He also claimed that the Ukraine grain export deal had been transformed from a humanitarian effort to assist developing countries confronting rising food prices into a commercial venture benefiting the world's four main Western agro-business corporations.
As a result, Nebenzia stated that Russia has formally notified the Turkish and Ukrainian sides, via a note, that it does not object to extending the Black Sea grain plan for 60 days, until 18 May.
"If Brussels, Washington, and London are truly interested in continuing the export of food from Ukraine via the maritime humanitarian corridor, they have two months to exempt from sanctions the entire chain of operations that accompany the Russian agricultural sector," the Russian envoy said.
"Otherwise, we fail to understand how the Secretary-General's package concept will work through these simple agreements," he said.
According to US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Russia's food exports are at least as high as they were before the war, and "when we hear the Russian government say they are being held back from exporting grain, from exporting fertiliser, the numbers show it's just not true."
"We have gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate the clear carveouts for food and fertiliser to governments and the private sector," she said of sanctions. "To put it simply, sanctions are not the issue."
Thomas-Greenfield also chastised Russia for causing delays in shipping from Ukrainian ports, which raises transit costs.