Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Russia has returned to a United Nations-brokered deal to ensure safe passage for Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, following Turkish diplomatic efforts.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the U.N. and Turkey had provided it with written guarantees from Ukraine, promising that Kyiv would not use the deal’s “humanitarian corridor” for military purposes against Russia.
“The Russian Federation considers that the guarantees currently received appear to be sufficient, and resumes the implementation of the agreement,” said ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
During a meeting with Russia’s Security Council later in the day, President Vladimir Putin confirmed that he had instructed the ministry to resume participation in the grain deal, but warned that “Russia reserves the right to withdraw from these agreements if Ukraine violates its guarantees.”
Putin pledged that even if Russia pulled out again, it would “supply the entire volume of grain that has so far been delivered from the territory of Ukraine to the poorest countries free of charge.”
He also promised that – regardless of what happened to the agreement – the Russian military would not interfere in Ukrainian grain shipments to Turkey, “bearing in mind Turkey’s neutral status in the conflict, the Republic of Turkey’s grain processing industry capabilities and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s efforts to ensure the interests of the poorest economies.”
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres “warmly” welcomed Russia’s decision to rejoin the grain deal and urged both Moscow and Kyiv to renew the pact before its scheduled expiration date on November 19.
Putin’s decision was criticized by some Russian journalists and nationalist commentators, who argued that Moscow’s past experience of negotiating with Ukraine had shown that Kyiv could not be trusted to honor its commitments.
“Written guarantees from Ukraine on any issue are worth nothing,” Dmitry Astrakhan, a Russian war correspondent stationed near the front, wrote on Telegram.
Shortly after Russia’s announcement, global wheat prices fell 6.58 percent to $8.45 per bushel and corn prices decreased 2.30 percent to $6.84 per bushel.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative was brokered by the U.N. and Turkey in July with the aim of helping to ease the global food crisis.
Under the terms of the agreement, Russia agreed to provide safe passage to ships carrying Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, which Ukraine claimed had been blocked previously by an effective Russian naval blockade.
Once the ships reach Istanbul, they are inspected by a team of U.N., Turkish, Russian, and Ukrainian officials to make sure no weapons are on board.
Since the agreement was signed, more than 9.2 million tons of Ukrainian grain have been shipped through the corridor.
Last Saturday, Moscow announced that it was suspending its participation in the deal in response to what it said was a “massive” Ukrainian drone strike against Russian ships stationed at a port in the annexed Crimean peninsula.
Ukraine did not publicly accept responsibility for the attack and claimed Russia was using the incident as a “false pretext” for withdrawing from the agreement.
Even before the drone strike in Crimea, Putin and other senior Russian officials had expressed growing dissatisfaction with the implementation of the grain deal.
They argued that too much Ukrainian grain was going to Europe instead of developing nations, that the humanitarian corridor was being used to smuggle weapons to and from Ukraine, and that the West still maintained significant sanctions-related barriers against the export of Russian agricultural products.
According to data from the Turkish National Defense Ministry, 47 percent of the grain went to Europe, 20 percent to Asia, 16 percent to Turkey, 13 percent to Africa, and four percent to the Middle East.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday disputed the Russian claims that the bulk of the grain is going to wealthy countries in Europe.
“The Russians can distort the data in any way they wish, and I’m sure they will,” he said. “When they point to some of this grain going to countries in Europe, some of this grain does go to Europe, where it is refined and then sent on to developing middle-income, lower-income countries as well.”
U.N. emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths told reporters in New York on Monday that of the Ukrainian wheat cargoes shipped under the agreement, 49 percent have gone to low-income and low-middle income countries.
Following Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement, Putin spoke with Erdogan by phone and the two countries’ defense ministers also discussed the matter.
Since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, Turkey has sought to strike a balancing act between the sides.
It has repeatedly voiced support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” and provided the country’s military with combat drones and armored vehicles, but refused to join Western-led sanctions against Russia, instead opting to strengthen economic cooperation with Moscow.
Trade volumes between the two countries have surged by 198 percent since the start of the conflict, the New York Times reported.
Last month, Putin proposed turning Turkey into a regional gas hub for Russian supplies headed to Europe, a move which could potentially allow Moscow to bypass the recently damaged Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. Erdogan later confirmed that he and Putin had reached a deal to move forward with the idea.