Russia’s announcement that it is suspending its participation in a Black Sea grain export deal requires a strong international response from the United Nations and the Group of 20 (G20) major economies, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on October 29.
“This is a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa, for Asia,” Zelenskiy said in a video address, adding that Russia should be kicked out of the G20.
“Why can a handful of people somewhere in the Kremlin decide whether there will be food on the tables of people in Egypt or Bangladesh?” Zelenskiy asked. “Russian terror and blackmail must lose. Humanity must win.”
Russia told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a letter that it was suspending the deal for an “indefinite term” because it could not “guarantee safety of civilian ships” traveling under the pact, Reuters reported.
U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the move as “purely outrageous” and said it would increase starvation.
“There’s no merit to what they’re doing. The UN negotiated that deal and that should be the end of it,” Biden told reporters.
The United Nations urged Russia not to withdraw from the deal, and deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said negotiations with Russia were ongoing.
“It is vitally important that all parties refrain from any actions that could jeopardize the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” Haq said, using the formal name for the deal.
The European Union said it supported UN-led efforts to keep the Ukraine grain deal alive.
Nabila Massrali, spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy at the European Commission, said the EU stresses that “all parties must refrain from any unilateral action that would imperil the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is a critical humanitarian effort that is clearly having a positive impact on access to food for millions of people around the world.”
Russia also asked the UN Security Council to meet on October 31 to discuss an alleged attack on its Black Sea Fleet, Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said.
It said some of the ships attacked in Sevastopol in the early hours of October 29 were civilian vessels involved in ensuring the security of the grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that in light of the attack, which it said Ukraine carried out “with the participation of British experts,” Russia “suspends participation in the implementation of agreements on the export of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports.”
The ministry said earlier that drones were used in the attack and that they were all destroyed. Only one Russian ship, a minesweeper, sustained minor damage, it said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said earlier on Twitter that Ukraine had previously warned that Russia planned to “ruin” the grain export deal.
Kuleba called on “all states to demand Russia to stop its hunger games and recommit to its obligations.”
The grain export deal between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations allowed a resumption of grain exports. Under the July 22 agreement, Ukraine was able to restart its Black Sea grain and fertilizer exports, and some Russian fertilizer exports also resumed.
The agreement was set to last 120 days with the option for renewal on November 19 “if no party objects,” a UN spokesman said on October 28.
Russia had threatened to pull out of the agreement on grounds that the grain was not being sent to poorer countries, which at the time the deal was signed desperately needed the grain to ensure their populations did not starve.
Analysts have pointed out that Moscow’s withdrawal from the deal would deprive Ukraine of a major part of its hard-currency revenues and at the same time would drive up global food prices and inflation in Europe.
The United Nations on October 28 had urged parties to the Black Sea Grain Initiative to renew it.
“We underline the urgency of doing so to contribute to food security across the world, and to cushion the suffering that this global cost-of-living crisis is inflicting on billions of people,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
The agreement freed up exports from three of Ukraine’s ports — Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhne — which had been blockaded since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February.
The deal set up a corridor that is exclusively humanitarian, the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure said.
The ministry says that since the first ship left the port in Odesa on August 1, Ukraine has exported more than 9 million tons of food, of which more than 5 million tons went to countries in Africa and Asia.
At the same time, 190,000 tons of wheat were sent to countries on the brink of famine within the framework of the UN World Food Program, the ministry said.
“Ukraine remains a reliable partner for the civilized world and is ready to continue promptly collecting and shipping agricultural products to ensure global food security,” the ministry added.