Geneva — A Russian delegation meeting with senior UN officials said on Monday that Moscow is ready to accept an extension of a grain export deal that has helped lower global food prices amid the war with Ukraine – but only for 60 days as the Kremlin pushes for changes. how the agreement works.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal between the two warring countries in July that will allow Ukraine, a key world breadbasket, to ship food and fertilizer from its three Black Sea ports.
Last November, the 120-day agreement was renewed, providing some relief from rising global food prices. That extension expires Saturday, and another 120-day extension was on the table. Ukraine on Monday accused the Russian proposal of a 60-day extension that was against the original agreement.
Moscow has been frustrated that a parallel agreement to allow exports of Russian food and fertilizers used around the world has resulted in a trickle of Russian fertilizer and no Russian grain at all.
“The comprehensive and frank discussion reaffirmed that while commercial exports of Ukrainian products are proceeding at a steady pace, bringing significant profits to Kyiv, restrictions on Russian agricultural exporters are still in place,” the Russian delegation said. statement.
“The food and fertilizer exemptions announced by Washington, Brussels and London are essentially inactive,” the statement said.
As part of the deal, Moscow wants Russian ammonia to be fed through a pipeline through Ukraine for eventual export to Black Sea ports. Russian officials say banking restrictions and high insurance costs have dampened their hopes for fertilizer exports.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov argued that “Russia’s position that it will only extend the agreement for 60 days contradicts the document, which provides for an extension of at least 120 days.” He said on Twitter that Ukraine is waiting for the official position of the UN and Turkey. as guarantors of the initiative.
Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and Martin Griffiths, head of the UN humanitarian agency, hosted a group led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Versinin at the UN offices in Geneva.
Much is at stake: Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia where millions of people do not have enough to eat. Even before the war, Russia was the world’s largest fertilizer exporter.
The loss of those supplies after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022 has pushed up global food prices and fueled fears of a famine in poorer countries.
The so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative involves inspections of the cargo at sea by UN, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish officials to ensure that only food is being transported, not weapons.
The amount of grain leaving Ukraine has decreased despite the trade ensuring the flow of food. Inspections of vessels carried out under the grain initiative have dropped significantly since they rolled in earnest in September and the vessels were shored up.
Western critics accuse Russia of delaying inspections. Moscow denies this.
While the grain deal has helped stabilize global food prices, concerns remain about potential trade restrictions and the impact of weather, particularly heat waves, on prices, said Michael Puma, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate System Research, whose research focuses on global food security. . .
“We are very fortunate that the weather conditions have allowed for … high production levels of many grains,” he said.
On the Ukrainian frontline, the eastern town of Bahmut remained the scene of heavy fighting, with Ukrainian forces refusing to reward Russian forces for their capture after six months of desertion.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian millionaire with ties to President Vladimir Putin who owns the private military company Wagner, has repeatedly claimed that only Wagner fighters are involved in the battles for Bahmut, not the regular army. His claims could not be independently verified.
“The situation around Bakhmut remains difficult,” said Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces. “Wagner’s assault units are pushing forward from several directions, trying to break through our troops’ defenses and advance towards the central districts of the city.”
The Ukrainian presidential office announced on Monday that four civilians had been killed and 11 wounded in the past 24 hours.
Two people were killed in the southern Mykolaiv region on Monday morning when Russian forces shelled the village of Kutsurub. Three others, including a 7-year-old child, were injured.
On Monday, a civilian was killed in Donetsk’s Avdiivka, where a school building was destroyed, and five others were wounded during Russian shelling in the village of Kostyantinivka. Another person was killed during shelling of Znob-Novhorodske in the northern Sumy region, which also injured four local residents.
Russian officials accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the town of Volnovaha in the Russian-controlled part of the Donetsk region on Monday, killing two civilians and wounding two others. ___
Karl Ritter reported from Kiev. Courtney Bonnell from London also contributed.
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