Russia Suspends Black Sea Grain Agreement, Threatening Global Food Prices and Escalating Tensions with Ukraine

Russia Suspends Grain Export Agreement with Ukraine, Threatening Global Food Prices

In a move that could significantly impact global food prices, Russia announced on Monday that it would suspend its involvement in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an agreement with Ukraine that had allowed both countries to continue exporting grain despite Russia’s ongoing invasion of its neighbor. The agreement, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, has been instrumental in keeping food prices stable amid the conflict between the two nations.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred to the suspension as a temporary measure, rather than a termination. Peskov claimed that the United States and Ukraine’s other international partners were not allowing the agreement to be implemented fairly, making it difficult for Russia to export certain agricultural products. He stated that once the agreement’s provisions related to Russia were implemented, Russia would resume its participation.

The breakdown of the Black Sea Grain Initiative comes at a critical time, as Ukraine is currently engaging in a grinding counteroffensive against Russia’s 17-month invasion. The suspension of the agreement threatens to drive food prices back up, which could have severe consequences for vulnerable populations around the world. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, who was in New York to speak at the United Nations, called on Russia to “stop playing hunger games” and criticized Moscow for using hunger as a tool of blackmail to pursue its own commercial interests.

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, condemned Russia’s move, stating that it was “another act of cruelty” by Moscow and accusing Russia of holding “humanity hostage.” Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed deep regret over Russia’s decision, highlighting the agreement’s role in ensuring the safe passage of over 32 million metric tons of food commodities from Ukrainian ports.

Despite the suspension of the agreement, efforts are still underway to find a new deal, with talks ongoing between the parties involved. However, Russia’s decision to suspend its involvement may impact the resurrection of the crucial grain export pact. Richard Gowan, U.N. Director for the International Crisis Group, noted that Russia’s move could be a tactic to elicit more concessions from the U.N. and Western powers. He also observed that Russia appeared to be growing increasingly contemptuous of the U.N. in general.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, which began in July last year, has facilitated the safe export of more than 32.8 million tons of grain, foodstuffs, and fertilizers, effectively alleviating a global food price crisis. Although the agreement lacked a document with the signatures of both Russian and Ukrainian officials, it included separate Memorandums of Understanding. The agreement aimed to mitigate the disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which had halted grain exports and led to soaring food prices.

While concerns remain over the impact of the agreement’s suspension, Russia’s recent increase in wheat and corn exports may partially offset the potential effects. However, the full implications of Russia’s decision and the future of the grain export pact are still uncertain. The United Nations, the United States, Europe, and private banks have made significant efforts to ensure the smooth export of Russian grains and fertilizers. Nevertheless, Russia’s demand for a regularized system of payment and its insistence on its agricultural bank’s inclusion in the SWIFT payment system remain obstacles to be resolved.