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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia Threatens to Terminate Ukraine Grain Deal over Reports of G7 Export Ban

By Henry Ridgwell April 24, 2023

Russia has threatened to scrap the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which enables the safe export of grain from Ukrainian ports onto the world market. The threat comes as members of the G-7 group of rich nations are reportedly mulling further sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to discuss the grain deal with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York this week.

Export ban

The G-7 countries are considering a near total ban on all exports to Russia, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported April 21, citing Japanese government sources.

"The G-7 countries have already stopped exporting a wide range of items to Russia, including products that can be used for military purposes and luxury goods. But the latest plan could expand the trade embargo to used cars, tires, cosmetic items and clothing," Kyodo reported.

The G-7 includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, currently deputy chair of Russia's Security Council, wrote on the social media site Telegram that if the G-7 implements such a ban, Moscow will terminate the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

"This idea from the idiots at the G-7 about a total ban of exports to our country by default is beautiful in that it implies a reciprocal ban on imports from our country, including categories of goods that are the most sensitive for the G-7. In such a case, the grain deal — and many other things that they need — will end for them," Medvedev wrote Sunday on Telegram.

Grain deal

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the U.N. and Turkey last July, enables the vital export of grain from Ukraine's Black Sea ports onto world markets through the joint inspection of vessels at a facility in Istanbul.

Ukraine is the world's fifth biggest grain producer, and around 28 million tons have been exported under the deal since July. Its termination could have a devastating impact amid a global food crisis, said Ian Mitchell, a senior fellow at the London-based Center for Global Development.

"If the Black Sea deal isn't renewed and Ukraine can't export, then I expect to see food commodity prices to increase substantially again," Mitchell told The Associated Press.

Professor Stephen Flynn, founding director of the Global Resilience Institute at Boston's Northeastern University, said any such price spike would have grave implications for security.

"Anything that disrupts the food supplies has a dramatic effect, not just on potentially putting lives at risk but also fueling instability in parts of the world that already are facing significant violence and disruption," Flynn told VOA.

May expiration

Moscow had already indicated it may not renew the grain deal beyond its next expiration on May 18, well before the reports of a G-7 export ban. The deal is supposed to be renewable every 120 days. At the last renewal in March, Russia agreed to extend the deal for only 60 days.

The Kremlin says a separate but parallel memorandum of understanding it had agreed with the U.N. to help Russia's own agriculture sector in the face of Western sanctions is failing.

"Namely, the removal of any obstacles to the export of Russian fertilizers and grain — practically nothing has been done here," Lavrov said April 20 during a visit to Cuba.

Despite that claim, figures show Russian wheat exports actually doubled in the first two months of 2023 compared to 2022, according to Bloomberg.

Russian demands

Among the Kremlin's demands are the return of the Russian Agricultural Bank to the SWIFT global payment system, the resumption of supplies of farm machinery to Russia, and the lifting of restrictions on insurance and access to ports for Russian ships and cargo.

"Certainly, those demands cannot be fully met, and the Russians know it," said Flynn. "They're again trying to leverage food to get all the concessions they can get. They're doing it at a time when it's almost certain that we're going to see an uptick in the conflict, with the Ukrainians potentially trying to really push back the Russian positions."

Inspections

So, what happens if Russia terminates the grain initiative?

"In theory, if the Russians opt out of doing the inspections, the inspections could be done without them. And the inspections are to confirm that the ships coming in to pick up grains are carrying agricultural products, not weapons," Flynn said.

"If Russia clearly decides to be aggressive and mine the areas where the ships move, [or] potentially target those ships, then the ships aren't going to move, and insurance rates would go very high. Decisions would be made by shipowners not to come into the Black Sea. And that would really put a strangle on the flow of grains," Flynn told VOA.

UN response

The U.N. has also urged Russia to extend the deal.

"Our message is clear: We urge all involved to meet their responsibilities to ensure that vessels continue to move smoothly and safely in the interest of global food security. ... The positive humanitarian impact all over the world of the initiative is evident and not limited to its exports to specific low-income countries. It's in everyone's interest to keep it going and to work within the agreed-to policy procedures," Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told reporters on April 12.

G-7 agriculture ministers meeting in Miyazaki, Japan, called for the grain deal to be extended.

"We condemn Russia's attempts to use food as a means of destabilization and as [a] tool of geopolitical coercion and reiterate our commitment to acting in solidarity and supporting those most affected by Russia's weaponization of food," the ministers said in an official communiqué issued April 23.



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