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Russia and Ukraine renew a grain export deal to help the hungry and keep prices down

Asl Tia, a cargo vessel carrying Ukrainian grain, sails on Bosphorus to Marmara sea, in Istanbul, on Nov. 2, 2022.
AFP via Getty Images
Asl Tia, a cargo vessel carrying Ukrainian grain, sails on Bosphorus to Marmara sea, in Istanbul, on Nov. 2, 2022.

Updated November 17, 2022 at 10:02 AM ET

ISTANBUL — Russia and Ukraine have agreed to extend an agreement to allow grain exports from Ukrainian ports through a safe corridor in the Black Sea.

The deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, was set to expire on Saturday, and will now continue for at least another 120 days.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said he welcomed the agreement by all parties to continue the Black Sea Grain Initiative, saying on Twitter that it shows the importance of "discreet diplomacy." The governments of Russia and Ukraine also confirmed the deal's extension Thursday.

Nearly 11 million tons of grain and foodstuffs have been exported under the agreement, which has been a lifeline to Ukraine's battered wartime economy and helped ease food shortages around the world.

The deal will continue with the same provisions as before. Ships will carry grain from three Ukrainian ports: Chornomorsk, Odesa and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi. They will travel through the humanitarian corridor set up in the Black Sea and stop in Istanbul, where they are checked by inspectors from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N. before continuing to the final destination.

Oleksii Kubrakov, Ukraine's infrastructure minister, on Facebook welcomed the deal. "Since Aug. 1, the beginning of the Grain Initiative and to date, Ukraine has exported more than 11 million tons of agricultural products to 38 countries," Kubrakov said.

He added however, "It's a considerable amount, but not enough." Ukraine wants to be able to move food products out of additional ports, including the port of Mykolaiv, which currently is not included under the deal.

Ukraine is one of the world's largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. Disruptions to the country's agricultural exports due to the Russian invasion contributed to a global rise in food prices this year.

Russia's Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement that Moscow would adhere to the agreement. It noted some progress in addressing its complaints about Russian grain and fertilizer exports that are blocked at European ports, and said it expects remaining issues to be resolved in the next four months of the deal.

"Further delay of these urgently needed shipments is unacceptable," the ministry said.

The statement also repeated Russia's warning against Ukraine using the humanitarian shipping lanes to carry out attacks on Russian ships, a charge Kyiv has denied doing previously.

The U.S. government greeted the news of the deal extension as a sign Russia felt international pressure not to pull out of the initiative.

"Russia again heard and apparently felt that the world would not accept Moscow refusing to extend the agreement," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Bangkok. But he said Russian President Vladimir Putin "continues to ignore global calls for deescalation, choosing instead to escalate, raining down scores of missiles on infrastructure across Ukraine."

The agreement has largely been a success, despite the complicated logistics of operating in a war zone, including dangers of mines in the Black Sea. But there has been a backlog issue, with dozens of ships docked in Istanbul awaiting inspection, sometimes for weeks. Russia has so far refused to increase the number of inspectors to meet the demand.

Russia pulled out of the deal in October, citing Ukrainian drone attacks in the Black Sea. The move caused an immediate spike in wheat prices and was widely condemned by global leaders. Russia reversed its decision within a few days after a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and assurances that Ukraine would not use shipping corridors for military purposes.

Russia has also complained about buyers' fear of sanctions getting in the way of its own exports of grain and fertilizers, which it can do under a separate agreement with the U.N., even though there are no direct sanctions on Russian grain and fertilizers.

In his statement, Guterres added that the U.N was "fully committed to removing the remaining obstacles to exporting food and fertilizers from the Russian Federation. Both agreements signed in Istanbul three months ago are essential to bring down the prices of food and fertilizer and avoid a global food crisis."

Speaking to reporters at the Group of 20 summit in Bali on Wednesday, Erdogan said Ankara was pushing to extend the grain deal even further, by a year.

"As soon as we return, we will continue our talks, especially with Mr. Putin. Because the way to peace is through dialogue," Erdogan said.

Jason Beaubien contributed to this report from Odesa, Ukraine, and Ashley Westerman and Valeria Fokina contributed from Kyiv, Ukraine. Charles Maynes contributed from Moscow and Michele Kelemen from Washington, D.C.

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