Russia said Monday it is ending its participation in a nearly year-old agreement that allowed Ukraine safe passage to export its grains from three Ukrainian ports past Russian warships on the Black Sea.
“Unfortunately, the part of these Black Sea agreements concerning Russia has not been implemented so far, so its effect is terminated,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “As soon as the Russian part of the agreements is fulfilled, the Russian side will return to the implementation of this deal, immediately.”
However, the United Nations said its understanding is that the deal is ended.
“The letter that we received from the Russian Federation had the word ‘terminate,’” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who was at the U.N. Monday for a Security Council meeting on the situation in his country, acknowledged that there is a debate among diplomats whether Russia has terminated or only suspended its participation in the deal.
“And Russia itself is, you know, avoiding clarity, because in one text, they speak about termination. Then in another comment, they speak about suspension,” he told reporters, adding that it is too early to say how the situation will evolve.
Inside the Security Council, Kuleba said Russia should stop playing “hunger games” with people around the world and resume its participation in the deal in good faith.
The final ship to depart Ukraine through the maritime corridor left the port of Odesa on Sunday and arrived in Istanbul on Monday.
The U.N. and Turkey brokered the Black Sea Grain Initiative last year amid a global food crisis, seeking to facilitate exports that were blocked in Russia’s war against Ukraine. The grain exports helped to stabilize global commodity prices, which had surged after Russia’s invasion, jeopardizing the capacity of poorer countries to import food.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that the Black Sea deal has provided “a lifeline for global food security and a beacon of hope in a troubled world.”
He noted that the deal has helped reduce food prices by more than 23% since March 2022.
“Today’s decision by the Russian Federation will strike a blow to people in need everywhere,” Guterres said.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that Russia is “weaponizing food” and should come back to the deal.
“I hope that every country is watching this very closely,” he said. “They will see that Russia is responsible for denying food to people who desperately need it around the world, and to contribute to rising prices at a time when many countries continue to experience very difficult inflation.”
Ahead of the deal’s expiration Tuesday, Russia had said it was not benefiting enough under the initiative. Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products.
Ukraine’s agrarian policy minister, Mykola Solsky, told VOA that “Ukrainian exports will be badly affected because shipping grain by sea is the most efficient way to ship grain from Ukraine.”
He said Ukraine “will fight for this grain corridor, and we will use all other methods of export.”
Aside from the Ukrainian grain exports, a parallel memorandum of understanding between Moscow and the U.N. has sought to remove obstacles to the export of Russian grain and fertilizer. While the West does not sanction food and fertilizer exports, efforts have been made to ease concerns of banks, insurers, shippers and other private sector actors nervous about doing business with Russia.
One of Russia’s main demands has been for its agriculture bank to be reinstated in the SWIFT system of financial transactions. That has not happened, but the U.N. was able to find a work around for it, which it proposed to President Vladimir Putin in a letter last week.
The U.N. said that since the exports began in August 2022, 32.8 million metric tons of food commodities have been exported to 45 countries. Experts said not renewing the deal would cause food prices to spike and wheat, corn and soybean prices all rose Monday on the news of the deal’s collapse.
Russia said a Ukrainian attack Monday on a bridge linking Russia’s Krasnodar region to the Crimean Peninsula, a major military supply route, killed a civilian couple and injured their child, while damaging the bridge’s road decking and halting traffic.
Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee attributed the attack to two Ukrainian sea drones.
Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern military command, said, “Destruction of the enemy’s logistical routes is destroying his potential, making it impossible to supply resources to counter. Therefore, any logistical artery along which the enemy pulls up its forces is a legitimate target, and destruction of it naturally or unnaturally is work for the counteroffensive to advance.”
The bridge serves as a key link to supply Russian forces in their invasion of Ukraine.
Russian authorities said the attack damaged a section of the bridge closer to Crimea, the region Russia annexed in 2014 in a move not recognized by the international community. There was no damage to the bridge’s piers, Russia said.
The bridge was previously damaged in an October explosion that Russia also blamed on Ukraine.
Ukrainian Security Service spokesman Artem Degtyarenko said in a statement that details of the incident would be revealed after Ukraine wins the war.
“In the meantime, we are watching with interest how one of the symbols of the Putin regime once again failed to withstand the military load,” Degtyarenko said.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak also alluded to the attack in a tweet Monday, saying, “Any illegal structures used to deliver Russian instruments of mass murder are necessarily short-lived … regardless of the reasons for the destruction.”
A Ukrainian defense official said Monday the country’s military had retaken 18 square kilometers (11 square miles) of territory during the past week, and 210 square kilometers (130 square miles) from Russian forces since launching a counteroffensive last month.
The gains include seven square kilometers (4.3 square miles) in the Bakhmut area, in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces have occupied the city since May.
In southern Ukraine, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian fighters had retaken 11 square kilometers (6.8 square miles) as they advance on the cities of Berdyansk and Melitopol.
Maliar also said Russian forces have advanced on Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine./VOA/