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UN chief regrets Russia's decision to end Black Sea grain deal

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-07-18 09:28

UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday said he regretted Russia's decision to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

"I deeply regret the decision by the Russian Federation to terminate the implementation of the Black Sea Initiative, including the withdrawal of Russian security guarantees for navigation in the northwestern part of the Black Sea," Guterres said.

With the decision to terminate the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Russia also terminated its commitment to facilitate the unimpeded export of food, sunflower oil, and fertilizers from Ukrainian-controlled Black Sea ports, as expressed in the memorandum of understanding between Russia and the United Nations, he told a press encounter at the UN headquarters in New York.

The initiative has ensured the safe passage of over 32 million metric tons of food commodities from Ukrainian ports. The World Food Programme has shipped more than 725,000 tons to support humanitarian operations, relieving hunger in some of the hardest-hit corners of the world, including Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Yemen, noted Guterres.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the United Nations and Turkiye -- together with the memorandum of understanding between Russia and the world body -- has been a lifeline for global food security and a beacon of hope in a troubled world. At a time when the production and availability of food are being disrupted by conflict, climate change, energy prices and more, these agreements have helped to reduce food prices by over 23 percent since March last year, he added.

"Ultimately, participation in these agreements is a choice. But struggling people everywhere and developing countries don't have a choice. Hundreds of millions of people face hunger and consumers are confronting a global cost-of-living crisis. They will pay the price," said Guterres, noting that there was already a jump in wheat prices immediately after the announcement of the Russian decision.

Earlier Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow decided to suspend its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

"Unfortunately, the part of these Black Sea agreements that concerns Russia has not been implemented so far, so its effect is terminated," local media reported, citing Peskov. Russia had been complaining that its demands to improve its own grain and fertilizer exports have not been met.

Peskov noted that the country will immediately return to the deal when the Russian part of the agreements is fulfilled.

Guterres on Monday pledged to continue to facilitate food and fertilizer exports from Ukraine and Russia despite the Russian decision.

"Today's decision by the Russian Federation will strike a blow to people in need everywhere. But it will not stop our efforts to facilitate the unimpeded access to global markets for food products and fertilizers from both Ukraine and the Russian Federation," he said. "Looking ahead, our goal must continue to be advancing global food security and global food price stability. This will remain the focus of my efforts, taking into account the rise in human suffering that will inevitably result from today's decision. We will stay fixed on finding pathways for solutions. There is simply too much at stake in a hungry and hurting world."

Guterres said he was "deeply disappointed" that his proposal for the renewal of the Black Sea grain deal went unheeded.

"I am aware of some obstacles that remained in the foreign trade of Russian food and fertilizer products. That is precisely why I sent a letter to (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin with a new proposal to keep the Black Sea Initiative alive," said Guterres.

At the press encounter, Guterres read out parts of his letter, which contained the efforts of the United Nations to facilitate the export of Russian grain and fertilizers, including a bespoke payment mechanism for the Russian Agricultural Bank through JP Morgan outside SWIFT, a messaging network through which international payments are initiated.

Most of the Russian banks were kicked out of the SWIFT system following the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict last year.

The United Nations also brokered a concrete proposal to enable a subsidiary of the Russian Agricultural Bank to regain access to SWIFT with the European Commission, said Guterres. "The key element underpinning this proposal's political viability is that it can be implemented within existing regulations. We see this as a unique political opening, stemming from a genuine desire to protect global food security beyond July 17."

The letter was sent on Tuesday last week.

UN General Assembly President Csaba Korosi on Monday also deeply regretted Russia's decision to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

For 12 months, this initiative has provided a lifeline to millions of people hit hard by the global food security crisis triggered by the conflict in Ukraine. To date, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has facilitated the export of over 32 million metric tons of grain and foodstuffs, directly feeding the people of the world and stabilizing global prices, said Paulina Kubiak, Korosi's spokesperson, in a statement.

Korosi commends the tireless efforts of the UN secretary-general as well as the exemplary work of the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul, which was responsible for the operationalization of the initiative. He recognizes also the efforts of the Turkish government, said the statement.

"As is so often the case, the most vulnerable people suffer when food supply is short and prices rise, as we are already witnessing today. Therefore, the president reiterates his call on the parties to return to dialogue," it said. "The challenges are complex, they are interconnected. But they are not insurmountable. It is not too late."

Russia and Ukraine signed separately with Turkiye and the United Nations the Black Sea Grain Initiative in Istanbul in July 2022, which allowed Ukraine to export its grain and other agricultural products from its Black Sea ports. As a parallel agreement, Russia and the United Nations signed a memorandum of understanding on the facilitation of Russian food and fertilizer exports.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was initially valid for 120 days, was extended in mid-November 2022 for another 120 days until March 18, 2023. Russia then agreed to extend the deal for only 60 days. On May 17, Russia agreed to extend the deal for another 60 days.

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