U.N. chief delays travel to try to bring Russia back into Black Sea grain deal

  • Russia says it will respond to Ukraine attack on ships
  • July deal allows Ukrainian grain exports
  • Biden says ‘outrageous’ move will increase hunger
  • Moscow criticizes U.S. response

Kyiv/NEW YORK, Oct 30 (Reuters) – The head of the United Nations said he was “deeply concerned” by Russia’s decision to suspend U.N.-brokered food deals and delay foreign visits in an attempt to revive the pact, aimed at easing global food crisis.

Moscow on Saturday stopped its role in the Black Sea accord, effectively cutting shipments from Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain exporters. The company said it was responding to a Ukrainian drone attack on its fleet earlier in the day near the Russian-annexed Crimea port of Sevastopol.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was conducting “close contacts aimed at ending Russia’s suspension of engagement”. His statement added that Guterres had postponed the Arab League summit in Algiers by a day to focus on the issue.

Ukrainian grain exports have helped bring down food prices around the world, NATO said. “We call on Russia to reconsider its decision and urgently renew the agreement so that food can reach those who need it most,” spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.

Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said the decision “effectively blocked” 218 ships. Analysts said wheat prices are expected to rise in international commodity markets on Monday.

The EU also urged Moscow to change course.

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted: “Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea Agreement puts at risk key export routes for much-needed food and fertilisers in response to a war with Ukraine. the global food crisis.”

Turkey negotiated a July 22 food deal with the UN. Its Defense Ministry said Minister Hurus Akar was negotiating with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts on the resumption of the deal, and asked all parties to refrain from any “provocations.”

On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden called Russia’s move “purely heinous,” saying it would exacerbate hunger, while Secretary of State Anthony Blinken accused Moscow of weaponizing food. On Sunday, Russia’s ambassador to Washington hit back, calling the U.S. response “heinous” and making false assertions about Moscow’s move.

Ukraine attacked the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol with 16 drones earlier on Saturday, and British naval “experts” helped coordinate the so-called terror attack, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Britain has denied the claim.

Ukraine has neither denied nor confirmed it was behind the attack, while the Ukrainian military has suggested the Russians themselves may have been responsible for the bombing.

‘Hungry Games’

Russia said it had repelled the attack, but the targeted ships were involved in securing a grain corridor outside Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said Moscow used the explosion 220 kilometers (137 miles) from the food corridor as a “false pretext” for its long-term action.

“Russia decided long ago to revive the Hunger Games and is now trying to justify it,” Kuleba said on Twitter, without providing any evidence.

Russian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff on Saturday accused Russia of inventing the attack on its own facilities.

Kyiv has often accused Russia of using the Black Sea Fleet to fire cruise missiles at civilian targets in Ukraine, an accusation supported by some military analysts who say it makes the fleet a legitimate military target.

Russia’s withdrawal from the grain trade marks a new advance in an eight-month war that began with the Russian invasion in February. More recently, the conflict has been dominated by a Ukrainian counteroffensive and Russian drone and missile strikes that have destroyed more than 30 percent of Ukraine’s power-generating capacity and hit densely populated areas.

Both sides accused the other of preparing to detonate radioactive bombs.

Zelensky called on the United Nations and major G20 economies to react strongly to what he called Russia’s absurd moves in food deals, which he said in a video address on Saturday threatened to threaten economies in Africa and Asia. Mass famine.

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Ship is blocked

The grain deal has restarted shipments from Ukraine, allowing sales on the world market, targeting pre-war levels of 5 million tonnes per month from Ukraine.

Under the agreement, more than 9 million tonnes of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soybeans have been exported.

But ahead of the Nov. 19 expiration, Russia has repeatedly said there are serious problems, and Ukraine has complained that Moscow has blocked nearly 200 ships from receiving grain cargoes.

When the agreement was signed, the United Nations World Food Program said some 47 million people were suffering “severe hunger” as the war halted shipments from Ukraine, leading to global food shortages and soaring prices.

The agreement ensures safe passage into and out of Odessa and two other Ukrainian ports, in what one official called a “de facto ceasefire” for the ships and facilities involved.

Russia told Guterres in a letter seen by Reuters on Saturday that it would suspend the agreement “indefinitely” because it could not “guarantee the safety of civilian ships sailing under it.”

Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky tweeted that Moscow asked the U.N. Security Council to meet on Monday to discuss the Sevastopol attack.

David Ljunggren and Reuters Bureau Reporting William Mallard, Guy Faulconbridge, Tomasz Janowski, Philippa Fletcher Writing Kenneth Maxwell, Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry Editing

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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