Ukraine grain export deal extended for 120 days

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A deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports to pass through the blockaded Black Sea has been extended for 120 days, Ukraine announced Saturday, but Russia again griped that it would only assent to a full rollover if its own exports of food and fertilizer are freed up.

Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov thanked “all our partners for sticking to the agreements” in a tweet Saturday afternoon. “Due our joint efforts, 25M tons of Ukrainian grain” have been “delivered to world markets,” he said.

The announcement comes after a week of wrangling after Russia said Monday that it had agreed to extend the Black Sea grain initiative but only for 60 days. Moscow again dug its heels in on Saturday, however, despite objections from Kyiv and reminders from the United Nations and Turkey that the original agreement foresees a minimum 120-day extension.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, visited Crimea on Saturday on an unannounced trip to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine. Putin was greeted by the Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, and taken to see a new children’s center, Reuters reported.

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The grain deal — described by aid groups as a lifeline for food insecure countries — was due to expire on Saturday. 

Initially brokered by the U.N. and Turkey last July after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 fueled a global food crisis, the pact was extended in November for 120 days. 

Russia will only consider further extending the deal if “tangible progress” is achieved in implementing its three-year deal with the U.N. to facilitate its own exports of food and fertilizer, according to a letter posted on Twitter Saturday by its mission to the U.N. in New York.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is due to attend an EU summit in Brussels next week to seek ways to unblock the Russian food and fertilizer shipments, which have been blocked by sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs and the state agricultural bank. The Kremlin argues that these these are to blame for food insecurity in the Global South.

Ukraine and Russia produce a massive chunk of the world’s grain and fertilizer, together supplying some 28 percent of globally traded wheat and 75 percent of sunflower oil during peacetime.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has called on the U.N. to broker a renewal of the deal for a full 12 months, warning that this is necessary to “to help stave off hunger in the most food insecure countries.” 

The number of people facing food insecurity rose from 282 million at the end of 2021 to a record 345 million last year, according to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). Africa is one of the hardest-hit regions, with eastern African countries like Somalia and Ethiopia in particular facing extreme hunger.

“Shipments of grain to countries most in need, including Somalia, hinge on the critical renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” the IRC said, adding that Somalia receives over 90 percent of its grain from Ukraine.

This story has been updated.