Russia resumed its military blockade of Ukrainian ports on October 30, halting the supply of grain supplies largely headed to low-income nations and reigniting fears of a spiral in global food prices.
The United States immediately criticized Russia’s actions, accusing it of “weaponizing food” to gain leverage in its failing invasion of Ukraine.
Russia announced a day earlier it would suspend its participation in a UN-brokered deal that allowed Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets, to export grain after accusing Kyiv of staging a drone attack against its Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine has rejected the accusations.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on October 30 that he was “deeply concerned” about Russia’s decision to halt its participation in the July deal, which helped reverse skyrocketing food prices that threatened to put millions at risk of starvation.
Guterres said he would delay his departure for the Arab League summit in Algiers by one day to work on saving the grain deal.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry reported on October 30 that 218 ships involved in grain exports are currently blocked — 22 loaded and stuck at ports, 95 loaded and departed from ports, and 101 awaiting inspections.
Ukraine’s grain exports are a key revenue source for the country, whose economy has been decimated by Russia’s eight-month war. They are also a critical source of food for countries in Africa and Asia.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Russia to resume its participation in the deal, warning it was “exacerbating” an already dire food crisis impacting largely poor countries.
“Any act by Russia to disrupt these critical grain exports is essentially a statement that people and families around the world should pay more for food or go hungry. In suspending this arrangement, Russia is again weaponizing food in the war it started,” he said.
In a post on Twitter, European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also urged Russia to revert its decision.
The July deal allowed Ukraine to resume exports of grain, other foodstuffs, and fertilizer, including ammonia, through a safe maritime humanitarian corridor from three of its Black Sea ports.
To implement the deal, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN set up a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) to inspect vessels headed to and from Ukraine traveling along the corridor. Turkey played a major role in brokering the agreement.
Russia on October 30 announced it was suspending its participation in the JCC, including inspecting ships off Istanbul. Earlier in the day, Turkey said the JCC would continue inspecting ships on October 30 and 31.
The JCC had inspected 11 shipments on October 30 with more than 100 waiting for clearance.
Analysts have been warning for the past two months that Russian President Vladimir Putin would look for an excuse to pull out of the deal to pressure the West over its continued military aid to Ukraine.
Kyiv has used that military aid with effectiveness, driving the Russians back in the northeast, east, and southeast since launching a counteroffensive in September.
“Given Ukraine’s successful counterattack, the fighting there isn’t going Russia’s way. Putin, who is used to engaging in dialogue from a position of strength, finds he does not have so many ways of putting pressure on the West at his disposal. Threatening to torpedo the grain deal is one of his few remaining options,” Aleksandra Prokopenko, an independent analyst, wrote in a September 16 note posted on the website of Washington-based think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In a video address after Russia’s announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the move “a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa and Asia.” Zelenskiy called for Russia to be expelled from the Group of 20 leading global economies (G20).
U.S. President Joe Biden called Moscow’s decision “purely outrageous.”
The July 22 grain deal was intended to last 120 days with the option for renewal on November 19 “if no party objects,” the UN said on October 28.
Moscow has asked the UN Security Council to meet on October 31 to discuss the reported attack on its Black Sea Fleet at the Crimean port city of Sevastopol in the early hours of October 29.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said drones were used in the attack and that one Russian ship, a minesweeper, was damaged.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said Kyiv would try to continue using the Black Sea shipping corridor as long as possible.
Russian Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev said on Russian state television that Moscow was prepared to “supply up to 500,000 tons of grain to the poorest countries free of charge in the next four months.”
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