The UN Security Council is currently debating Russia’s withdrawal from the significant Ukraine grain agreement and how to maintain the historic agreement to export grain and related foodstuffs from Ukraine.
Following its decision to halt participation in the UN-mediated Black Sea Grain Initiative “for an unspecified period,” Russia had requested the meeting.
The country’s withdrawal was announced this past weekend, in response to alleged Ukrainian attacks against its ships.
In addition to providing the Council with a briefing at UN headquarters, two senior UN officials emphasized the importance of maintaining the agreement despite the ongoing conflict and the rising cost of living around the world.
The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, and the head of its Trade and Development Agency (UNCTAD), Rebeca Grynspan, briefed ambassadors on the development and its impacts so far.
“Ukraine’s grain exports are not a food aid operation. They do operate as a huge lever on price, with positive ripple effects throughout the world.
“New security allegations are a cause of grave concern to the Secretary-General and many Member States are worried now that the deal is in trouble,” said Griffiths.
Ukraine and Russia account for roughly 30 percent of the world’s exported wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil.
Russia is also the world’s largest exporter of fertilizers, accounting for 15 percent of global exports.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative was signed by the UN, Ukraine, Russia, and Türkiye during a ceremony in Istanbul in July.
Under the deal, ships transporting grain from three Ukrainian ports travel along an agreed corridor to markets worldwide.
The UN and Russia also signed a parallel agreement on grain and fertilizer exports.
Griffiths said it would be “a grave abuse” of the Black Sea Grain Initiative if it were used in any way for military operational advantage.
“The United Nations has the solemn privilege of assisting the parties to implement this unique arrangement.
“Acting as a Secretariat, the UN is ready to investigate, along with the Member States party to the Initiative, any, and all evidence presented, if requested,” he added.
Furthermore, the mechanism implementing the Initiative – the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), comprising representatives of the four signatories – has established agreed processes for incidents and accidents.
“This is of course why Russia’s suspension is concerning: There is a painstaking process, in the JCC, to arrive at a consensus on matters large and small even when a hot war is raging.
“The JCC has to be, and is, meticulously impartial,” he said.
Regarding Russia’s allegations, Griffiths stated that “no military vessels, aircraft or assets are, or have been, involved in support of the Initiative by any party.”
The corridor that vessels travel along “just lines on a chart,” he added, and provides neither cover nor protection for offensive or defensive military action.
Griffiths also addressed the alleged misuse of cargo vessels for military purposes, noting that no vessels are in the corridor on the night the reported attacks took place, and none reported an incident over the weekend.
Meanwhile, emergency measures have been taken to release some of the cargo from Ukrainian ports and to inspect some of the roughly 100 vessels that are queued up and ready to sail.
The relief chief insisted that the exports from Ukraine and Russia were vital in a world where millions were going hungry and finding it hard to pay their bills.
“Let me also say very clearly that we expect all Member States to work to support the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Russian Federation, also signed on 22 July, to ensure their food and fertilizer exports can expeditiously reach global markets,” he told the Council.
On her part, Grynspan amplified this message in her briefing.
She said since the two agreements were signed, grain exports from Ukraine and Russia increased substantially, and food prices declined for six consecutive months.
However, uncertainty around the continuation of the Initiative is causing prices to spike again, with wheat futures rising by over six percent on Monday alone.
The official also warned of the “fertilizer crunch,” with high prices affecting farmers, which could also impact the availability of other staples such as rice.
She said the focus had been on finding solutions so that key markets would be able to access Russian fertilizer.
“What we have called the ‘chilling effect’ of the sanctions on the private sector, over-compliance, reputational risks, and market avoidance, are still a real obstacle.
“Transaction costs on the insurance premiums, financial payments, shipping costs, and transport, for Russian food and fertilizer exports, are very high, leading to continued high global food and fertilizer prices,” Grynspan said, speaking via video link.
Regarding UN efforts, she reported that there have been “very intense engagements” with the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and other countries, as well as the private sector.
“But, even with clear exemptions on the sanctions, there is still a lot of work to be continued.
“Specifically, the need to further clarify exemptions for food and fertilizer within the different sanction’s regimes, the need to address indirect constraints to food and fertilizer er trade, as well as improve the private sector’s willingness to engage,” she added.