LONDON (AP) – Ships loaded with grain left Ukraine on Tuesday, even as Russia suspended its participation in a United Nations-brokered deal ensuring safe passage of critical food during the war for parts of the world struggling with hunger . However, the United Nations said the ships would not move on Wednesday, raising concerns about future deliveries.
Three ships carrying 84,490 tons of corn, wheat and sunflower flour left Ukraine through a humanitarian sea corridor established in July, while 36 other ships passed inspections near Turkey to head to their final destinations, the United Nations said. The corridor, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, was seen as a breakthrough to ensure Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia received grain and other food from the Black Sea region during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia cited allegations of a Ukrainian drone strike on its Black Sea fleet as it announced over the weekend it was suspending its share of the grain deal. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Monday that shipping traffic from ports in southern Ukraine had been halted, calling the move “unacceptable”.
But a total of 14 ships sailed out that day, including one chartered by the United Nations World Food Program to bring wheat to Ethiopia, which along with neighboring countries Somalia and Kenya is badly hit by the worst drought in decades. The United Nations has warned that parts of Somalia are at risk of famine. Thousands of people died there.
Although ships loaded with grain are leaving Ukraine this week, the UN announced such ships would not travel on Wednesday, stoking fears about the future of the initiative. Amir Abdulla, the UN coordinator of the accord, later tweeted that “we expect loaded ships to depart on Thursday”.
But it was unclear what would happen later that week. Ukraine, Turkey and the UN have conducted ship inspections without Russia, allowing some shipments to continue in what the international body described as a “temporary and exceptional measure”.
The UN operation prioritized a large backlog of ships awaiting screening off Istanbul, said Munro Anderson, intelligence chief at risk consultancy Dryad Global.
After suspending its participation, “it is likely that Russia will use this as a negotiating tool to ensure what it needs from the deal,” Anderson said. “We know that Russia has been trying to export fertilizer products and request a deferral of sanctions on them so it can do so effectively.”
While Western sanctions against Russia shouldn’t affect grain exports and a parallel war deal should pave the way for the country’s food and fertilizer supplies, some shipping and insurance companies have balked at violating the sanctions or plan to avoid doing business with Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed to the fertilizer problem in a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, saying Russia’s agricultural exports are still not liberalized. Putin also said that resuming the grain deal would require an investigation into the attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Erdogan told Putin that “if they solve the grain crisis through a constructive approach, they will (also) encourage steps towards a return to negotiations” to end the war in Ukraine, according to the Turkish President’s office.
The July 22 deal to boost grain and fertilizer exports came in response to skyrocketing food prices following cuts in supplies from two major producers after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. The United Nations said more than 9.7 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs had been shipped from Ukraine’s three Black Sea ports as of Tuesday.
Analysts say Russia is still bound by the terms of the grain deal it signed, which includes a commitment not to attack civilian ships participating in the initiative. Such an attack would also violate international law.
“While not currently participating in this deal, it is still a signatory. Russia’s interests are in no way served by attacks on ships and groups in the international community,” Anderson said.
He added that Russia’s biggest concern is probably that ships could go unchecked and be used to import weapons. For this reason, as part of the grain deal, a joint coordination center was set up in Istanbul to coordinate controls between the warring nations, Turkey and the UN
Russia has announced plans to conduct its own inspections of ships that have already passed joint checks in Istanbul, but no further details were given.
AP reporters Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations contributed.
Follow all of AP’s coverage of the food crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/food-crisis and the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.
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