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Ukraine grain export deal revived as Russia resumes participation

Russia claimed on Wednesday it would resume its participation in a deal to enable vital grain exports from war-torn Ukraine after suspending it over the weekend in a move that had threatened to exacerbate hunger across the world.

The breakthrough came after the Russian defence ministry, according to its own statement, had received written guarantees from Kyiv not to use the Black Sea grain corridor for military operations against Russia.

The Russian Federation considers that the guarantees received at the moment appear sufficient, and resumes the implementation of the agreement,” the ministry statement said.

The deal and the food security of the most foreign grain-dependent African and Middle Eastern countries hung in the balance on Saturday when Russia suspended its involvement in the deal, claiming it could not guarantee safety for civilian ships crossing the Black Sea because of an attack on its fleet there, part of which it said had come from within the grains export corridor. Ukraine has said that was a false pretext.

The deal re-entered into force on midday Wednesday. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said earlier that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had told his Turkish counterpart that the UN- and Turkey-brokered July 22 grain deal would continue to operate as of that moment.

The grain transports will continue as agreed before as of 12 [pm] today,” President Erdogan said.

The announcement soothed the situation on global markets as prices of wheat, soybeans, corn and rapeseed plummeted.

From the technical point of view, ships continued to carry Ukrainian grain on the route regardless of the suspension. This, however, would not continue for long because insurance companies were not issuing new contracts due to Russia’s move, industry sources told Reuters.

“This is quite an unexpected turnaround,” Andrey Sizov, the head of Russia-focused Sovecon agriculture consultancy, said of Russia’s decision. “Still, the deal remains shaky, as it is now back in guessing mode as to whether there will be an extension or not. With two weeks to go before the extension, the discussion around this topic will apparently continue.”

But Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya is not surprised about Moscow’s decision to resume the agreement. She said it had nothing to do with any guarantees from Ukraine.

The Kremlin itself simply fell into a trap from which it did not know how to get out,” she said. “It was necessary to retreat and put on a good face (not very successfully) when faced with a bad game.”

Running out on November 19, the deal could possibly be taken advantage of by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as negotiation leverage during the prospective G20 summit in Indonesia on November 15-16, Reuters reported based on a statement by a European diplomat briefed on the grain talks.

To German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s mind, the resumption proves how much countries could achieve while working together.

“This is an expression of how important it is that those who believe in the international order…stand together in these difficult times and do not allow themselves to be blackmailed by Russia,” she told broadcaster Welt.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told CNN she was “delighted” to hear about Russia’s return to the agreement. “They can’t stand in the way of feeding the entire world.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier that the world should respond firmly to any Russian attempts to disrupt Ukraine’s export corridor across the Black Sea, which was blocked after Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, Reuters reported.

President Zelenskyy, in a Tuesday night video address, said ships were still moving out of Ukrainian ports with cargoes thanks to the work of Turkey and the United Nations.

“But a reliable and long-term defence is needed for the grain corridor,” President Zelenskyy said. “Russia must clearly be made aware that it will receive a tough response from the world to any steps to disrupt our food exports. At issue here clearly are the lives of tens of millions of people.”

Given Ukraine’s position as one of the world’s biggest suppliers of grain and oilseeds, the Russian blockade has aggravated food shortages and a cost of living crisis in many countries. Designed to help avert famine in poorer countries by injecting more wheat, sunflower oil and fertiliser into world markets and to ease a price hike, the deal targeted the pre-war level of 5 million metric tonnes exported from Ukraine each month.

As put earlier by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlu Cavusoglu, Russia was concerned about its fertilizer and grain exports. This echoed Russian officials in saying ships carrying the goods could not dock even though the exports were not included in Western sanctions.

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