What is Russia’s problem with the Black Sea grain deal?

This month, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that his country was thinking about pulling out of the Black Sea grain agreement. He accused the West of defrauding Moscow by making it difficult for Moscow to sell its own agricultural products on the global market.

Putin stated that he will talk to African leaders who were in town on Saturday about the future of the grain deal.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was negotiated by the UN and Turkey in July of last year to assist in addressing a worldwide food crisis made worse by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and blockade of its Black Sea ports.

It permits the export of food and fertiliser from the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk, Odessa, and Pivdennyi (Yuzhny). Three times the agreement has been extended, most recently through July 17.

So far, Ukraine has exported about 32 million tonnes of goods under the agreement, primarily maize and wheat. Although none has been exported, the programme also permits the export of ammonia, a vital component of nitrate fertiliser, in a secure manner.

A three-year agreement was also reached in July in which the UN committed to support Moscow in removing any barriers to its own food and fertiliser supplies. This agreement was made in an effort to persuade Russia to support the programme.

Although Western sanctions established following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine do not apply to Russian exports of food and fertiliser, Moscow claims that restrictions on payments, logistics, and insurance have acted as an impediment to shipments.

Last week, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the U.N., stated that “the past months have shown tangible progress” in terms of increasing Russian exports, but he also noted that “challenges remain, but we will spare no effort to overcome all remaining obstacles.”

The increasing global food prices disproportionately affected the world’s poorest people. The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) issued a warning in March of last year, stating that the country of Ukraine supplied 50% of the grain it used to feed its 125 million-person target population.

According to the United Nations, between 2018 and 2020, Africa imported $3.7 billion worth of wheat (32% of its total imports) from Russia and another $1.4 billion worth (12% of its total imports) from Ukraine.

The United Nations said last year that 36 nations, including some of the poorest and most vulnerable, such as Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, depend on Russia and the Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports.

More than 625,000 tonnes of grain have already been supplied by the WFP under the terms of the Black Sea grain agreement for humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen. More than half of the wheat grain used by WFP in 2022 came from Ukraine.

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