Russia says extending Ukraine grain deal "complicated"

Russia says extending Ukraine grain deal "complicated"
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained that sanctions against Russia were hampering the country's grain exports, meaning that only half of the agreement was being implemented

Russia said on Thursday that a landmark agreement to ensure the safe export of grain from Ukraine's Black Sea ports was only "half-implemented," raising doubts about whether it would allow an extension of the deal, which expires next week.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered last July by the United Nations and Turkey, was intended to prevent a global food crisis by allowing the safe export of Ukrainian grain blocked by the Russian invasion from three Ukrainian ports.

The agreement was extended for 120 days in November and will be renewed on March 18 if no party objects. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, said Thursday that the renewal of the agreement would be "complicated" as he claimed a parallel agreement on Russian exports was not being respected.

"If the package is only half fulfilled, the question of extension will be quite complicated," Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow.

"Our Western colleagues, the United States and the European Union, pathetically ... declare that no sanctions apply to food and fertilizer, but this position is dishonest," Lavrov said.

"The sanctions prohibit Russian ships carrying grain and fertilizer from entering the relevant ports, and the sanctions prohibit foreign ships from entering Russian ports to pick up this cargo," he said.

Russia's agricultural exports have not been explicitly targeted by the West, but sanctions against the payments, logistics, and insurance industries are hampering the country's exports of grain and fertilizer.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that a Russian "interagency delegation" would travel to Geneva for talks with UN representatives.

She said the talks would also include the head of humanitarian aid, Martin Griffiths ( UN ), and Rebeca Grynspan, head of the 'trade and development agency UNCTAD ( UN).

"The agreement will be discussed," the spokeswoman told reporters.

The UN confirmed that the talks are scheduled for Monday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff said the grain deal was part of the country's plan to end the war and should be extended indefinitely.

Andriy Yermak, quoted by Interfax Ukraine news agency, said any suggestion of ending the grain initiative amounted to "pressure on its intermediaries - Turkey and the U.N."

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey was also in talks with the UN, Ukraine and Russia to extend the deal.

"We are holding with the UN, Ukraine and Russia about the extension of the grain agreement and hoping for its extension thanks to the efforts of all parties. Ukraine expressed a positive attitude toward a further extension of the agreement. Russia is also showing a positive approach to the initiative," the Turkish minister was quoted as saying by the TRT television channel.

Ukraine has so far exported more than 23 million tonnes of mainly corn and wheat under the initiative, according to the United Nations. The top primary destinations for shipments have been China, Spain, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands.