A deal allowing Ukraine to export grain to world markets by ship despite Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea has been extended, the UN and the Ukrainian and Turkish governments said on Saturday.
The Black Sea grain initiative, agreed in July under the auspices of the UN and with Turkish mediation, has enabled Ukraine to ship 25mn tonnes of grain and edible oils, easing pressure on global food prices.
Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister responsible for infrastructure, said in a tweet that the agreement had been extended for 120 days.
However, Moscow indicated it had only agreed to a 60-day extension. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova re-posted a letter it had sent to the UN earlier this week, saying it was only willing to extend beyond 60 days if there was “tangible progress” in unblocking flows of Russian food and fertiliser to world markets.
The UN confirmed the deal had been rolled over but did not specify for how long, as did Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The deal for the grain corridor was due to expire today,” Erdoğan said in a speech in the Turkish city of Çannakale, Reuters reported. “As a result of our talks with the two sides, we have secured an extension to this deal.”
The original agreement signed last year specified that it would continue automatically for 120 days if no party objected. Ukraine, Turkey and the UN backed a full extension. Kyiv says a 60-day extension creates too much uncertainty for grain dealers and shippers.
The deal was extended once in November. It allows exports of commercial food and fertiliser, including ammonia, from three Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea — Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.
The Kremlin had been pressing for the reopening of a pipeline to pump ammonia, a feedstock for fertiliser, from Tolyatti in central Russia to Odesa for export. It has also demanded an easing of what it claims are western restrictions on the export of Russian cereals, even though they are not covered by sanctions.
The initiative has been a lifeline for Ukrainian farmers and grain traders because alternative export routes via rail and river barge have far less capacity and are much more expensive.
Ships are escorted out of the authorized ports to avoid mines and then follow an agreed humanitarian corridor south towards Turkey.
Ukrainian officials have complained that Moscow has been undermining the deal by ordering its officials to drag out inspections of Ukrainian ships as they leave the Black Sea for the Bosphorus. Russian inspectors were ordered to work shorter hours and take longer with each ship, delaying scores of ships for weeks, Kyiv claimed.
“The Black Sea grain initiative, alongside the memorandum of understanding on promoting Russian food products and fertilisers to the world markets, are critical for global food security, especially for developing countries,” the UN said.
“We remain firmly committed to both agreements and we urge all sides to redouble their efforts to implement them fully.”