Russia requested the meeting following its decision to suspend participation in the UN-brokered Black Sea Grains Initiative “indefinitely,” announced last weekend in response to alleged Ukrainian attacks on its ships.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths and the head of its Trade and Development Agency, UNCTAD, Rebeca Grynspan briefed the ambassadors on the development and its impact to date.
Many governments worried
“Ukraine’s grain exports are not food aid. They act as a huge price lever with positive domino effects around the world. New security allegations give cause for great concern the Secretary-General and many member states are now concerned that the agreement will run into difficulties‘ said Mr Griffiths.
Ukraine and Russia account for around 30 percent of the world’s exported wheat and barley, a fifth of the corn and more than half of the 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 agreement, ships transporting grain from three Ukrainian ports will travel along an agreed corridor to global markets.
The UN and Russia also signed a parallel agreement on grain and fertilizer exports.
UN ready to investigate
Mr. Griffiths said it was “A Serious Abuse” of the Black Sea Grain Initiative if used in any way for military operational advantage.
“The United Nations has the solemn privilege of assisting the parties in the implementation of this unique agreement. As a secretariat, the United Nations stands ready to examine, upon request, any evidence presented, together with the member states involved in the initiative,” he added.
In addition, the mechanism implementing the initiative – the Joint Coordination Center (JCC), composed of representatives of the four signatories – has established agreed procedures for incidents and accidents.
“Of course that is the reason Russia’s suspension is worrying: There is an arduous process in the JCC to reach consensus on matters large and small, even when a hot war rages on. The JCC must and is meticulously impartial,” he said.
Referring to Russia’s allegations, Mr. Griffiths stated as much “No military ships, aircraft or assets are or have been involved by any party in supporting the initiative.”
The corridor that ships travel down “is just lines on a map,” he added, and provides neither cover nor protection for offensive or defensive military action.
Mr Griffiths also addressed the alleged misuse of cargo ships for military purposes. He said no ships were in the corridor the night the reported attacks took place, and none reported an incident over the weekend.
Eat on the go
Meanwhile, emergency measures have been taken to release some of the cargo from Ukrainian ports and to inspect some of the 100 or so vessels that are queued and ready to go.
The aid chief insisted that exports from Ukraine and Russia are vital in a world where millions are starving and finding it difficult to pay their bills.
“Let me be very clear about that as well We expect all Member States to commit themselves to the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Russian Federationalso signed on July 22 to ensure their own food and fertilizer exports can quickly reach global markets,” he told the council.
Effects of the Agreements
Ms Grynspan reinforced this message in her briefing. Since the two agreements were signed, grain exports from Ukraine and Russia have increased significantly and food prices have fallen for six straight months.
However, uncertainty over the continuation of the initiative is sending prices higher again, with wheat futures up over six percent on Monday alone. She also warned of the “fertilizer crisis” with high prices hitting farmers, which could also affect the availability of other staples like rice.
She said the focus is on finding solutions so that key markets can access Russian fertilizers.
sanctions a factor
“What we called the “deterrent effect” of sanctions in the private sector, overcompliance, reputational risk and market avoidance are still real obstacles,” Ms Grynspan said via video link.
“The transaction costs of insurance premiums, financial payments, shipping costs and transportation for Russian food and fertilizer exports are very high, which leads to Persistently high food and fertilizer prices worldwide.”
“Very intensive negotiations”
Referring to the United Nations effort, she reported that there had 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 from sanctions, there is still work to be done,” she added.
“Specifically, the need to further clarify exemptions for food and fertilizers within the various sanctions regimes, the need to address indirect restrictions on food and fertilizer trade, and to improve the private sector’s willingness to engage.”
Russia: Act without us
Although Russia announced the suspension on October 29, work at the JCC continued without its participation, the country’s ambassador Vasily Nebenzya pointed out.
“We believe that what has been concluded cannot be implemented without us and the decisions taken without us do not commit us,” he told the council.
Since the Black Sea “remains an area of hostilities,” Russia cannot allow unhindered passage of ships “without our inspection, and we must take our own measures to control what the Joint Coordination Center has allowed without our consent.”
And while Moscow is being accused of provoking world hunger, “Washington and Brussels are ignoring the fact that their sanctions are blocking Russian food,” he continued.
Mr. Nebenzya said through the efforts of Russian experts, the volume of ships on the Black Sea has reached an impressive level, with about a million tons transported weekly.
“At the same time, progress on the Russia-UN memorandum on normalizing exports of our food is approaching zero,” he said.
Ukraine: Not surprised
Ambassador of Ukraine Sergiy Kyslytsya said he was “Outraged but not surprised” by Russia’s decision.
“This announcement did not come suddenly as Russia has never given up intensifying the food crisis to pressure and blackmail the world,” he said.
The ambassador said Russia had previously threatened to pull out of the initiative and has been impeding the passage of ships since September, a deliberate blockade affecting hundreds of ships.
“Crocodile tears from Putin’s representatives do not hide the cynicism of his masters and their utter disregard for the critical nutritional needs of millions of people in different parts of the world,” he said.
Mr Kyslytsya was concerned that Russia was abusing the Council to spread false narratives.
“Today we are confronted again with Russian attempts to discredit the council by turning it into a place where a new batch of lies are being spread, the lie that serves the same purpose: their aggression against Ukraine, their war crimes and Covering up crimes against humanity and his actions aimed at worsening the food crisis worldwide,” he said. “This practice discredits the Council and must be stopped.”