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‘Stop the hunger games’ Russia’s grain deal withdrawal threatens to worsen the global food crisis. Is there hope for renewal?
Russia has suspended its participation in the agreement brokered by the UN and Turkey in July to allow grain and fertilizers to be exported from Ukrainian ports. The Russian Defense Ministry reported on October 29 that Moscow was withdrawing from the deal because Ukraine, “with the participation of experts from Great Britain,” used drones to attack “ships from the Black Sea Fleet and civilian ships that were involved in providing security for the ‘green corridor.’” Russia called the attack an act of terrorism and called for the UN Security Council to meet on October 31 to discuss the situation.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Ukrainian military carried out a massive strike on a naval base in Sevastopol “under the cover of a humanitarian corridor, which was created to help realize the ‘Black Sea initiative’ for exporting Ukrainian agricultural products.” According to the ministry, Russia is suspending its participation because it “can’t guarantee the safety of civilian cargo vessels that are participating in the ‘Black Sea initiative.’”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia is “definitively thwarting” the export deal. According to Zelensky, Russia exacerbated the food crisis in September, when it started blocking ships carrying Ukrainian agricultural products. Zelensky claimed that from September to the end of October, Moscow has prevented 176 ships carrying enough food to feed more than seven million people from passing through the transport corridor. “Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Bangladesh, Vietnam — these and other countries may suffer from another exacerbation of this intentionally-caused food crisis."
Why is it that a bunch of people over in the Kremlin can decide whether people in Egypt or in Bangladesh are going to have food on their tables? Right now, what’s needed is a severe international reaction at the UN level as well as on other levels, including that of the G20.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of fabricating a reason to withdraw from the agreement. “I call on all states to demand that Russia stop the hunger games and return to its obligations,” Kuleba said.
On October 30, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov wrote on Twitter that the grain export deal was suspended because Russia was blocking the corridor in the Black Sea.
The UN called on all parties to the agreement to refrain from taking actions that could put the grain deal under threat. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” at Russia’s decision to suspend its involvement. Guterres suspended a trip to Algeria, where he was slated to attend this year’s Arab League Summit, in response to Moscow’s announcement, and is reportedly working “intensely” to ensure the agreement’s terms are fulfilled.
A UN representative from the deal’s Joint Coordination Center reported that on October 29, nine ships safely passed through the sea corridor, while the UN, Turkey, and Ukraine made plans for 16 ships to travel on October 31 without Russia’s involvement.
The U.S. and the EU have called on Russia to renew the grain export agreement. EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said that Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in the deal “puts at risks the main export route of much needed grain and [fertilizers] to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine.”
U.S. President Joe Biden called Russia’s decision “purely outrageous,” adding that the move could cause a rise in hunger. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the suspension was “essentially a statement that people and families around the world should pay more for food or go hungry,” and that “Russia is again weaponizing food in the war it started, directly impacting low- and middle-income countries.”
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov called accusations that Russia is exacerbating the world’s food crisis “false,” adding that it’s “unjust” to blame Russia for suspending its participation: “This happened because of the reckless actions of the Ukrainian authorities.” Antonov also said that half of the ships leaving Ukraine through the Black Sea corridor were going to “developed countries, whereas Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan, and Afghanistan were receiving about 3 percent of agriculture products” from Ukraine. (This is a false claim that Vladimir Putin has made before.)
After Russia’s suspension announcement, Russian Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev said that Russia is “ready to provide poor countries up to 500,000 metric tons of grain free of charge,” and that the shipments will be fulfilled “with the participation of our reliable partner, Turkey.” Ankara has not commented on the claim. According to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have not made plans to discuss the initiative. An unnamed representative of Turkey told Bloomberg that Ankara is in talks with Russia about the Black Sea agreement, and that there’s cause for optimism.
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