UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The last ship will leave a Ukrainian port on Wednesday, under a deal that allows the safe Black Sea grain export from Ukraine, said a U.N. spokeswoman, a day ahead of Russia's potential withdrawal due to obstacles to its grain exports and fertilizer.
In July of last year, the United Nations and Turkey negotiated the Black Sea Deal for an initial period of 120 days to address a global crisis of food that was exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow. Ukraine is one of the leading grain exporters in the world.
In November, Moscow extended the Black Sea Pact by 120 days. But in March, it agreed to an extension of 60 days - up until May 18, if a list containing demands regarding its agricultural exports is not met.
In July, to convince Russia to allow Black Sea grain imports, the United Nations also agreed to assist Moscow with its own agricultural exports for three years.
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There are many questions that remain unanswered regarding our part in the agreement. According to Russian media, Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson told reporters that a decision must be made.
Last week, senior officials from Russia and Ukraine met with representatives of the U.N., Turkey, and Turkey to discuss the Black Sea pact. On Tuesday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stated: "Contacts at various levels are taking place." We're in a sensitive stage.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Causoglu stated that he believed the agreement could be extended by at least two months.
Although sanctions by the West imposed after the February 2022 invasion in Ukraine do not apply to Russian food and fertilizer exports, Moscow claims that restrictions on payments and logistics, as well as insurance, have created a barrier for shipments.
Last week, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the ambassador to the U.N., said: "It exports grain and fertiliser at the same level, if it is not higher than before the full-scale invasion."
A Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul is made up of officials from Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, who implement the Black Sea Export Deal. They inspect and authorize ships. Since May 4, the JCC has not authorized any new vessels.
Officials of the JCC inspect authorized ships near Turkey, before they travel to a Ukrainian Black Sea Port via a maritime humanitarian corridor to pick up their cargo. They then return to Turkish waters to undergo a final inspection.
A U.N. spokesperson said that only one ship is still in a Ukrainian harbor and is scheduled to leave on Wednesday to transit the maritime route with its cargo. Another vessel returned to Turkey Tuesday, and five more are awaiting an inspection on their way out of Turkish waters.
In a Reuters-reported excerpt from a letter last month, Russia informed its JCC counterparts it would not approve new vessels for the Black Sea Deal unless transits were completed by May 18, "the anticipated date of... closure."
After May 18, it said that this was to "avoid commercial losses and possible safety risks".
It is unlikely that ship owners or insurance firms will continue to transport Ukrainian grain exports, if Russia decides not to extend the agreement and quits.
In October, the United Nations, Turkey, and Ukraine continued to implement the Black Sea Agreement despite a short suspension of Russia's participation.
The United Nations reported that Ukraine exported 30 million metric tons of grain, foodstuffs, and other products under the Black Sea Deal, including 600,000 tonnes of grain on World Food Programme vessels to support aid operations in Afghanistan and Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen.