Moscow is suggesting to renew a deal allowing the safe export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports but only for a period of 60 days, half the term of the previous renewal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said on Monday.
Vershinin’s statement came after talks with U.N. officials in Geneva.
The Black Sea grain initiative, brokered between Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey last July, aimed to prevent a global food crisis by allowing Ukrainian grain blockaded by Russia’s invasion to be safely exported from three Ukrainian ports
The deal, which was extended for 120 days in November, is up for renewal on Saturday.
In a statement after talks with U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan and aid chief Martin Griffiths, Vershinin said that despite a “comprehensive and frank conversation,” Russia noted that restrictions on its agricultural exporters remained.
Russia has argued that, although the country’s agricultural exports have not been explicitly targeted by the West, sanctions on its payments, logistics and insurance industries have created a barrier for it being able to export its own grains and fertilisers.
Russia “does not object to another extension of the ‘Black Sea Initiative’ after its second term expiration on March 18, but only for 60 days,” Vershinin said.
“Our further stance will be determined upon tangible progress on normalization of our agricultural exports, not in words, but in deeds,” he added.
A senior Ukrainian government official involved in the talks to secure the initial deal said Kyiv considered a 60-day extension to be in violation of the agreement’s terms.
“The agreement clearly states that extensions are possible for a minimum of 120 days,” he told reporters. “To extend it for 60 days, you have to amend the deal.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York following the talks: “We’re doing everything to preserve the integrity and ensure the continuity of the agreement,”
He said the U.N. was working with Russia, the private sector, the European Union, Britain, the United States and others to facilitate Moscow’s agricultural exports, adding that “obviously a lot of these things are not within the decision-making powers for the United Nations.”
European traders said uncertainty about the talks, especially the statement that Russia only sought an extension for 60 days, was a factor behind sharp rises in prices on the Paris Euronext wheat market.
Moscow had previously signalled it would only agree to an extension if restrictions affecting its own exports were lifted, but many diplomats and senior officials, including Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, said ahead of the talks they were optimistic the deal would be renewed.