Ships leave Ukraine despite Russia suspending grain deal
Vessels laden with grain left Ukraine on Tuesday despite Russia suspending its participation in a UN-brokered deal that guarantees the safe wartime passage of essential food supplies destined for struggling parts of the world with hunger.
The UN said three ships carrying 84,490 tonnes of corn, wheat and sunflower flour departed through a humanitarian maritime corridor set up in July. The corridor, brokered by Turkey and the UN, was seen as a breakthrough that would ensure that Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia would receive grain and other foodstuffs from the sea region. Black during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia cited an alleged Ukrainian drone attack on its Black Sea Fleet when announcing the suspension of its part of the grain deal over the weekend. The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday that maritime traffic from ports in southern Ukraine had been halted, calling the move “unacceptable”.
But a total of 14 ships sailed on Monday, including one chartered by the United Nations World Food Program to bring wheat to Ethiopia, which, along with neighboring Somalia and Kenya, is being hit hard by the worst drought in decades.
Analysts say that because Russia is bound by the terms of the grain deal it signed with Turkey and the UN, which include a pledge not to target civilian ships traveling as part of the ‘OK. Such an attack would also violate international law.
“Although he is not currently a participant in this agreement, he is still a signatory to it. Russia’s interests will in no way be served by attacks on ships and groups of the international community,” said Munro Anderson, head of intelligence at risk consulting firm Dryad Global.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed to reporters on Monday evening that Moscow “is not saying that we are ending our participation” in the grain agreement, but “we are talking about the fact that we are suspending it”. The move drew outcry from Ukraine, the United States and other allies.
Anderson said Russia was “unlikely to take overt action against vessels operating within the parameters of the original agreement”, although the risks are higher than ever of Russia attacking Ukrainian grain silos, other agricultural infrastructure or offshore targets.
The termination of the agreement is nevertheless likely to have lasting consequences, according to Joseph Glauber, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. When it comes to insuring cargo ships to travel from Ukraine, “the rates will go up and will probably be prohibitive,” he said.
Russia’s main concern is probably that the ships go unchecked and could be used to bring in weapons, which is why a joint coordination center has been set up in Istanbul to coordinate checks between the warring nations, Turkey and the UN.
After suspending its part of the grain deal, “Russia is likely to use it as a bargaining tool to get what it needs from the deal,” Anderson said. “We know that Russia has sought to export fertilizer products and seek a reprieve from sanctions so that it can do so effectively.
Although Western sanctions on Russia do not affect its grain exports and a wartime side deal was intended to pave the way for food and fertilizer shipments from Moscow, some companies are reluctant to breach the sanctions.
Anderson said the UN operation was prioritizing a backlog of vessels awaiting inspections off Istanbul, but the future of the initiative is unclear.
“I think right now the situation is such that no ships entering or currently enrolled in initiatives that are not already being processed are going to continue until the Russian position on continuing to participation is clearer,” he said.
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