The agreement that allowed Ukraine to export grain past Russia’s warships in the Black Sea to the rest of the world, including Africa, collapsed on Monday after Russia refused to renew the agreement.
The United Nations (UN) has warned that millions of the world’s poorest will “pay the price” for this decision.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year halted Ukraine’s exports until an agreement brokered in July last year thanks to the UN and Turkey allowed the passage of critical shipments of grain.
Russia confirmed on Monday that it will not renew the agreement, as the obstacles in the way of its own exports, which the agreement was supposed to help clear, were never met.
“The grain agreement has been terminated. Once Russia’s part (of the agreement) is fulfilled, Russia will return to the agreement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, says Moscow’s step will be “a blow to people in need”.
“Hundreds of millions of people face famine and a global cost of living crisis awaits consumers. They will pay the price,” Guterres told reporters.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenski, says his country is prepared to continue exporting grain through the Black Sea despite Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement.
“We are not afraid. We have been approached by companies that own ships. They said they are ready to continue with the exports,” says Zelenski.
Russia’s withdrawal could lead to its ships blocking grain exports by blocking Ukrainian ports.
Ukraine said on Tuesday it had activated air defense systems in the Odessa region after Russia deployed attack drones in the region. Odessa is home to ports that are key to Ukraine’s grain exports.
Over the past year, the grain agreement has enabled the export of more than 32 million tons of grain from Ukraine.
The UN says the last ship that transported Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea was inspected in Istanbul on Monday, a few hours before the agreement expired.
‘Food as a weapon’
Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, condemned Russia’s “cynical” decision, while the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said Russia’s “unconscionable” action was the use of “food as a weapon”.
Guterres, for his part, said Russia’s decision would not stop the UN’s efforts to give global markets “unfettered access” to food and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia.
The agreement helped the UN’s World Food Program bring relief to countries with critical food shortages such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen.
However, according to data from the Joint Coordination Center, which monitored the agreement, China and Turkey are the main beneficiaries of the grain exports, as well as other developed economies.
Guterres has in the past been ghosting about having the agreement renewed, but says he does support Russia’s position that the obstacles in the way of own exports must be removed before the agreement can be reconsidered.