MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed on Monday that Moscow has agreed to extend a deal that allows exports of Ukrainian grain to world markets for only 60 days, and that the deal could be scrapped altogether if conditions are not met.
Speaking at a parliamentary meeting in Moscow attended by lawmakers from African countries, Putin stressed that Russia expects the export of its own agricultural products to be facilitated as part of a package deal.
“Fair and comprehensive implementation of the Black Sea Grains Agreement can only be guaranteed if our position is taken into account, and depending on that we will settle the issue of our further participation in it,” Putin said.
The UN and Turkey brokered the July agreement that would allow Ukraine – one of the world’s most important granaries – to carry food and fertilizer from three of its Black Sea ports. The 120-day deal was extended last November, and Russia agreed to renew it when it expired on Saturday, noting that it has only accepted a 60-day extension.
Ukraine has claimed that the 60-day extension contradicts the deal, but the agreement allows the parties to continue or “change” it – as Russia did. The United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the extension, but neither said how long it would take, reflecting their inability to force Russia’s hand.
Moscow has expressed frustration that a parallel agreement has not fully opened the door to Russian grain and fertilizer exports through the Black Sea. Still, total Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December and January, up 24% from the same three months a year earlier, according to financial data provider Refinitiv.
Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that 25 million tons (about 28 million metric tons) of grain and foodstuffs were moved to 45 countries under the initiative, helping to lower global food prices and stabilizing markets.
Putin used Monday’s conference, attended by African lawmakers, to highlight Russia’s long-held claim that a significant portion of the grain exported under the deal was sent to “well-stocked” European markets and that only a fraction ended up on African markets.
The Russian leader added that if Moscow decides not to renew the deal after 60 days, it will be ready to supply African countries with free grain. Shortly before his meeting at the Kremlin, Putin spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who arrived in Russia on Monday for a three-day visit that gave the Russian president strong political impetus.
Food prices rose to record highs after Russian troops invaded Ukraine last February, contributing to a global food crisis also linked to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate factors such as drought.
The disruption to grain shipments needed for basic dietary needs in places like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more into poverty or food insecurity. People in developing countries spend more of their money on basic needs such as food.
According to the UN’s World Food Programme, an estimated 345 million people were food insecure as a result of the crisis.
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